HIPAA and Texting: Is Sending a Message Compliant?

HIPAA and Texting: Is Sending a Message Compliant?

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If you work in the medical field, you’re probably well versed in HIPAA regulations, right?

But there are some things that might not be entirely clear. If you’re unsure of something, how can you ensure that you, your staff, and your patients are protected?

There’s a bit of confusing gray area when it comes to HIPAA and texting, and if you’re not careful, you can end up with some nasty penalties. To avoid that, it’s best to remain compliant however you can.

If you’re unsure exactly how to manage text messaging while maintaining compliance, or even if there’s a problem there at all, you’re not alone. You’re also in the right place. Read on to learn all about how to stay within HIPAA guidelines while also communicating quickly and easily with staff or patients.

Some Background: What Is the HIPAA Privacy Rule?

The HIPAA privacy rule is a set of guidelines that were set in place to protect the personal health information of patients being overseen by medical professionals.

The rule requires that certain safeguards be set in place when transporting personal health information to ensure that it’s not shared with anyone outside of the hospital or the patient themselves.

Noncompliance with HIPAA has consequences ranging from quite mild to severe depending on the type of infraction that was completed. Mild infractions may result in a small fine, severe ones can carry a large fine or even jail time.

It’s ideal, clearly, to maintain privacy for the patient, not only for HIPAA compliance but also just for the sake of the patient’s wellbeing.

What Does HIPAA Have to Say About Texting?

There is nothing about text messages in HIPAA guidelines per se. This can make it a little bit confusing for healthcare workers or their higher-ups when it comes to setting rules for texting or any other similar messaging types.

HIPAA does have some guidelines when it comes to digital messages and communications. There are certain safeguards that must be put in place in order for the messages to remain compliant with HIPAA standards.

For the standards to be met, several things have to be true. For one, personal health information must only be accessible to people who require the information. In other words, only healthcare workers should be able to access this information.

It must be possible to monitor any activity happening (even between authorized users) when working with personal health information.

It must be possible (and required) to authenticate the identities of users before accessing the messaging service when it contains personal health information.

Any data that’s transmitted should be able to be encrypted in order to make it entirely useless to anyone who tries to intercept it. Otherwise, there must be procedures in place to ensure that the personal health information can not be lost or destroyed from the messaging system.

What Does That Mean for Texting?

Unfortunately, with these guidelines in place, standard text messaging services don’t seem to apply. As safe as we like to think that our texts are, unfortunately, it’s not all that difficult for someone else to intercept our information (even if by accident).

Aside from issues with hacking, it’s entirely possible to send a text message to the wrong person entirely by mistake. It’s also possible for someone else in the vicinity to read the text message over your shoulder, whether on purpose or by accident.

Once the text is out of your hands, you no longer have control over it. It’s even possible for that information to be forwarded for nefarious purposes even though you were well-intentioned. You would still be breaking HIPAA guidelines.

Are There Any Exceptions?

If a healthcare professional is communicating with a patient and they are made aware of the possible pitfalls and security issues of standard text messages, they are able to use texting for communication.

Also, if healthcare professionals are communicating in a way where no personal health information is actually being shared, this is still compliant. As soon as personal health information enters the conversation, the conversation is no longer compliant with HIPAA guidelines.

Is There a Solution?

Texting is a major form of communication in 2020, and it’s incredibly convenient, especially for healthcare professionals who need to move quickly and are always on the go. It’s not ideal to remove such a quick form of communication from their tool list, but patient safety and security needs to come first.

Luckily, there are other ways to go about this while still following HIPAA guidelines.

There are special mobile applications created specifically for healthcare professionals to make a safe and secure space to communicate.

These apps make HIPAA texting easy and compliant.

They work in a secure network, and they have access controls and monitoring available to adhere to the standards that HIPAA sets. Otherwise, they’re similar to messaging apps that many people are already used to using, so the transition is easy.

They can be used on the phones that your staff already has, and they can even use the phone numbers that your patients are already familiar with.

Secure applications for texting are the future of communication among healthcare workers. They’re easy to use and completely safe.

HIPAA and Texting Can Go Together With the Right Tools

Everyone is a bit scared of getting a HIPAA violation, but this is one way to avoid them when it comes to your communication habits.

Texting is easy and quick, and you might feel like it’s the best way to communicate with your staff and patients. HIPAA and texting don’t always mix, though, so use a HIPAA-compliant app to make everything secure and safe.

For more posts like this on all of your favorite topics, check out the rest of the blog.

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