Maintain HIPAA-Compliant Communications. Good communication can help save lives; it also keeps a medical practice running smoothly. However, there are consequences to violating the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act of 1996 (HIPAA) rules when communicating medical information, such as jail time or paying millions in fines.
Communication is crucial for healthcare professionals (HCPs). It connects doctors with patients, staff, and fellow physicians, and staff with patients and other offices. HCPs strive to effectively communicate to provide the desired efficient and productive care.
But, effective communication is challenging because it inevitably requires transmitting protected health information (PHI), especially for practices using telehealth or telemedicine platforms for doctors.
Compliance with HIPAA is necessary to avoid undesirable penalties and criminal charges. So, how do medical practices maintain HIPAA-compliant communications?
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Understanding HIPAA Rules that Protect PHI Comes First
HIPAA is a federal law that protects PHI from disclosure without the patient’s consent. The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) issued the HIPAA Privacy Rule and the Security Rule to implement HIPAA requirements.
The HIPAA Privacy Rule protects the patient’s identifiable information or PHI when disclosed by covered entities, such as healthcare providers, health plans, clearinghouses, or business associates. It also permits the actual use of health information to provide high-quality healthcare without compromising the patient’s privacy.
- Insurance documents
- Laboratory results
- Healthcare bills
- Personal identification
The rule allows covered entities the use of this information, without the patient’s authorization, in, for example, the following circumstances:
- Disclosure to the individual
- Treatment, payment, and healthcare procedures
- Public interest and benefit activities, such as when required by law
When the covered entities transmit PHI in electronic form (ePHI), the HIPAA Security Rule comes in and requires them to establish appropriate administrative, physical, and technical safeguards to protect ePHI.
ePHI is vulnerable to privacy and security threats. Medical practices must mitigate these threats to comply with HIPAA. If you plan to use or expand telemedicine and communicate PHI, compliance is a must.
Implementing privacy and security measures is the next move for HIPAA-compliant communications.
According to the HIPAA Security Rule, to comply with the law, covered entities must accomplish the following:
- Ensure the confidentiality, integrity, and availability of all PHI
- Detect and safeguard against anticipated threats to the security of the information
- Protect against anticipated, impermissible uses or disclosures
- Certify compliance by their workforce
Here are measures that HCPs can implement when communicating ePHI:
Always Consider Patient Consent
Always ask your patient to opt-in or consent to how you use their patient record. You can ask your patients before an actual virtual consultation or include opting in or out to virtual communication on their initial patient registration form.
Set Up Identity Verification and Security Protocols for Accessing Files
Passwords, pins, and other verification steps do not only identify who is accessing your network or folders — they are preventive measures that automatically stop unauthorized access. Firewalls and antimalware programs in your computers and devices help detect unwanted entry of malicious programs and communication processes.
These measures prohibit anyone or anything that does not pass the verification process and security standards you set up from accessing your system, which means PHI is safe.
Encrypt Your Files and Communication Methods From End to End
Obtaining patient consent does not make your office immune to security attacks. Security protocols to access files, processes, and communications do not eliminate the possibility of attacks either. However, encryption adds another layer of security, just in case your protective walls fail.
Encrypting files and communications considers the possibility that the other side of the communication process, your patients and other offices, do not comply with HIPAA. The principal responsibility rests on HCPs that store and share PHI, making end-to-end encryption important to HIPAA compliance.
Educate and Train Personnel Handling PHI About HIPAA and the Measures You Implement
The efficiency of the security measures rests on teamwork. It works both for HIPAA compliance and for your reputation to upgrade the skills and knowledge of the right staff by ensuring that they undergo education and training about HIPAA compliance and understand that they must use HIPAA-compliant communication platforms.
Only use HIPAA-compliant communication platforms like Curogram in your medical practice.
The protocols above already provide layers of protection for PHI. However, the setup takes time if you do it yourself. Worse, you might end up using applications you thought meet HIPAA standards but do not.
Popular and free messaging apps like Google Voice, WhatsApp, Facebook Messenger, Skype, and Telegram may implement encryption protocols. However, communication with ePHI needs extra encryption to pass HIPAA requirements.
To guarantee your practice is using a HIPAA-compliant communication platform, use Curogram. It simplifies keeping up with the security standards, saving you time.
Curogram encrypts all medical records in your computers and mobile devices and the messages that contain PHI you transmit and receive. Its messaging solutions enable you to communicate from your desktop or mobile device with 100% HIPAA compliance, saving you from potential penalties and criminal liabilities.
Maintaining HIPAA-compliant communications is a patient-centered decision.
As a covered entity, HCPs benefit from recognizing the importance of maintaining HIPAA-compliant communications in their medical practice. It demonstrates dedication to the sworn oath of a medical practitioner: “to treat the ill to the best of one’s ability, and to preserve a patient’s privacy…” And it is a manifestation of every HCP’s desire to deliver the most patient-centered care possible.
Curogram offers state-of-the-art, HIPAA compliant 2-way texting, automated appointment reminders, and entire front office management suite to help you communicate with your patients while maintaining compliance.