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How to Tackle HIPAA Text Messaging Compliance

How to Tackle HIPAA Text Messaging Compliance

Text Messaging and HIPAA Compliance

How to tackle HIPAA text messaging compliance has been an issue for healthcare authorities and other HIPAA covered entities since changes were made to the HIPAA Security Rule under the Final Omnibus Rule of 2013.

The amended Security Rule reflected changes in working practices and advances in modern technology over recent years that have resulted in many medical professionals using their personal mobile devices to support their workflows.

Text messages – specifically SMS messages – are inherently unsecure due to a lack of encryption, no control over where a message is sent and because copies of SMS messages can remain on service providers´ servers indefinitely.

There is also the risk of unauthorized access to Protected Health Information (PHI) when messages are sent over public Wi-Fi networks or when a mobile device is lost or stolen. Consequently, HIPAA stipulates that appropriate safeguards must be put in place to protect the integrity of PHI when it is being communicated between medical professionals, covered entities and other Business Associates.

How to Tackle HIPAA Text Messaging Compliance

One of the most effective ways to tackle HIPAA text messaging compliance is to implement a secure messaging solution. Secure messaging solutions work by creating a private communications network, within which all text messages are encrypted.

Authorized users gain access to the network via secure messaging apps that can be downloaded and installed on any desktop computer or mobile device. These apps have an interface similar to commercial messaging apps and the same convenient functionality.

However, safeguards exist on the apps to prevent text messages containing PHI from being sent outside of a healthcare organization´s network, while system administrators have the ability to remotely delete communications from a user´s device – and PIN-lock the secure messaging app – if the user´s mobile device is lost or stolen.

Further safeguards exist to prevent unauthorized access to PHI in a number of different scenarios. Message are assigned lifespans, so that they delete automatically after being read, and an automatic logoff function prevents third-party access to PHI if a desktop computer or mobile device is left unattended.

How These Safeguards Benefit the Healthcare Industry

Healthcare organization who tackle HIPAA text messaging compliance see many benefits from replacing unsecure channels of communication with a secure messaging solution. For example, the necessity to monitor access to PHI results in 100% message accountability; which, together with features such as delivery notifications and read receipts, helps to reduce phone tag.

As medical professionals are able to send and receive PHI “on the go” with secure messaging, their productivity increases. Groups of medical professionals can be invited to the same discussion thread, fostering collaboration and accelerating processes such as hospital admissions and patient discharges.

When secure messaging solutions are integrated with EMRs, physicians are able to receive EMR alerts remotely, organize them according to their priority and streamline their workflows. Studies have also shown that “advanced EMRs” reduce patient safety incidents and medication errors.

Download our Guide to HIPAA Compliance

No two healthcare organizations are identical, and each will tackle HIPAA text messaging compliance in its own way. However, the safeguards that must be put in place to protect the integrity of PHI when it is being communicated are the same for everyone.

We have elaborated on these safeguards in our “HIPAA Compliance Guide” – a free white paper that you are invited to download and read.

Our white paper provides more information on the administrative, physical and technical safeguards of the HIPAA Security Rule, the security features that can be found on a secure messaging solution, and how these security features will help healthcare organizations tackle HIPAA text messaging compliance.