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Improving Communication with Patients During the COVID-19 Public Health Emergency

With lockdown measures in place to prevent the spread of the 2019 Novel Coronavirus, health systems have expanded their telehealth services to provide care to more patients at home. Rather than have patients travel to hospitals and healthcare clinics, clinicians can make diagnoses and provide treatment to patients remotely using text messaging platforms and videoconferencing applications.

The HHS’ Office for Civil Rights issued a Notice of Enforcement Discretion in March confirming financial penalties will not be imposed on healthcare providers in relation to the good faith provision of telehealth services. OCR explained that it is permissible to use everyday communications solutions for providing telehealth services during the COVID-19 public health emergency, even if those platforms are not fully HIPAA-complaint.

While penalties for noncompliance may not be imposed for using these platforms, OCR warned that these consumer-grade platforms may introduce privacy risks, which patients should be made aware of. To ensure patient privacy and the security of any ePHI collected or disclosed during telehealth visits, HIPAA-compliant platforms should be used.

“Covered health care providers that seek additional privacy protections for telehealth while using video communication products should provide such services through technology vendors that are HIPAA compliant and will enter into HIPAA business associate agreements (BAAs) in connection with the provision of their video communication products,” explained OCR in its Notice of Enforcement Discretion.

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New Telehealth Features Added to Popular HIPAA-Compliant Communication Solution

The HIPAA-compliant healthcare communication and collaboration solution provider, TigerConnect, has announced new features have been added to its TigerTouch text messaging solution to support voice and video calls with patients during the COVID-19 nationwide public health emergency.

In contrast to many consumer-focussed apps, which are not HIPAA-compliant and introduce privacy risks, TigerTouch is a fully HIPAA-compliant healthcare communication solution. TigerTouch combines the usability of mobile-centric communication applications such as WhatsApp, with bulletproof security controls to ensure the privacy of patients is protected.

TigerTouch can be used by healthcare providers to directly engage with patients, no matter where they are located. Clinicians can use TigerTouch for 1-on-1 conversations with patients or group conversations at any point during a health event, from diagnosis to hospitalization to follow ups with patients after they have been discharged. The solution is ideal for conducting virtual visits with patients, allowing them to remain in the safety of their own homes.

“Patients today expect a fast and easy direct line of communication with their healthcare provider, yet it’s easier to text my pizza delivery guy than to text my doctor,” said TigerConnect co-founder and CEO Brad Brooks. “COVID-19 has driven home how important it is to get treatment anywhere remotely to protect both patients and doctors. By relying on a simple, much-beloved text platform, we designed TigerTouch to deliver a powerful telehealth solution at a fraction of the cost of more complicated solutions. This is a vital advance that enables health systems to deepen patient support right when they need it most.”

The TigerConnect platform has been adopted by more than 6,000 healthcare providers and more than 10 million messages are sent through the platform every day by healthcare providers such as Danville, PA-based Geisinger Health System. “At Geisinger, we’ve already seen the tremendous value of TigerConnect with improved communication across the entire health system, so bringing patients into these conversations is the next logical step that could greatly improve the quality of the care we provide,” said Dr. Jonathan Slotkin, Geisinger Health Systems’ Director of Spinal Surgery.



Author: Steve Alder is the editor-in-chief of HIPAA Journal. Steve is responsible for editorial policy regarding the topics covered on HIPAA Journal. He is a specialist on healthcare industry legal and regulatory affairs, and has several years of experience writing about HIPAA and other related legal topics. Steve has developed a deep understanding of regulatory issues surrounding the use of information technology in the healthcare industry and has written hundreds of articles on HIPAA-related topics.