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Is Texting HIPAA Compliant? Your Questions, Answered
28 Jun 2020

Is Texting HIPAA Compliant? Your Questions, Answered

Texting, besides email, has become one of the most common ways to reach people within your social circle. This includes friends, family, colleagues, and even customers. In fact, it can be a helpful way to build relationships, gather information for research, or act as a helpful crisis line for people in pain.

With all this in mind, is texting HIPAA compliant? Read on to learn all about how you can still safeguard patient and customer information through texting!

HIPAA-Compliant Texting

First, you need to know that simply typing a text in your phone and sending it off to a patient doesn’t automatically make the text HIPAA-compliant. This is even if you also have the encryption that certain text applications or iMessage offers.

In order to be HIPAA-compliant, texting apps need to be able to offer secure, encrypted messages. Those messages are transferred through a secure server that is able to locally store sensitive data. This helps prevent cell phone networks from getting a duplicate, unsecured copy of the message.

Administrators also need to be able to add or remove people from the network and permanently delete any stored data.

Healthcare organizations, insurance agencies, and other companies and industries that handle sensitive patient information need to be fully HIPAA-compliant when they text or else face fines.

These texting fines start at $100 for not knowing to over a million for willful neglect.

Establishing Policy

Everyone needs to be clear about establishing and training policies. This needs to be done before the HIPAA compliant texting or messaging software is initiated.

Remember that even though an application is HIPAA-compliant, your employees might not understand proper texting methods or the importance of using the software the right way.

Texting policies are always different depending on the workplace. HIPAA-compliant texting policies should also be kept separate from normal communication and texting policies.

Before a policy is put in place, it’s also recommended for workplaces to conduct a risk assessment so that they’re aware of any security vulnerabilities.

Here are some of the elements typically found in HIPAA-compliant texting policies:

  • When PHI (Protected Health Information) can be communicated
  • Devices and software to communicate PHI with
  • Procedures for misdirected text messages
  • Procedures for lost or stolen devices with PHI
  • Mistakes to avoid
  • Consequences of violating policy

Consequences of Not Following Policy

It’s important that there are consequences in place for violating documented policies. These sanctions can start as a verbal reprimand with additional training for minor infractions to outright termination for more serious infractions.

If an employee is using the information in a malicious manner or for commercial gain, then they’ll need to be reported to authorities.

This helps let patients know that you take the security of their health information seriously. Employees are also aware that these policies aren’t just for “show” and need to be followed.

HIPAA Technical Safeguards

Before you choose an app or software provider, it’s also important that you make sure that it follows the HIPAA technical safeguards in place that help keep PHI secure. These are the policies and procedures that protect as well as control access to PHI.

Access and Audit Control

Access and audit control means that your workplace is able to control who is able to use the software. You can also see, at any time, who has access to information. You need the ability to view activity in order to make sure that only the necessary number of people have access to PHI.

Authentication and Integrity

These are necessary in order to ensure that the employees and patients who need to view the PHI are who they say they are. Even if the information is encrypted, if you’re sending information to the wrong person, it doesn’t matter.

Securing Data

Data needs to be secured while it’s in storage and also while it’s “in motion.” Your IT team or the software development team needs to have security in place. This includes magnetic disk storage, digital signatures, and error-correcting memory.

Data “in motion” refers to when it’s being sent to another party or transferred to another storage method. It needs end-to-end encryption that assures the PHI can’t be compromised at any point of its journey.

Benefits of HIPAA-Compliant Texting

Last but not least, you may be wondering whether HIPAA-compliant texting is worth the trouble. Here are a few reasons why it’s worth the investment:

  • Makes patient-doctor communication easy and instantaneous
  • Increased engagement between patients and healthcare providers
  • Improving patient outcomes
  • Easy appointment reminders and booking
  • Payment reminders

Many patients find that texting is just more convenient for them. Millennials in particular are used to replying by text. They have less a chance of picking up a phone to call or answering an email, as inboxes can quickly fill with spam.

Texting is a way to bridge the communication gap that often occurs when playing phone tag, emails going to spam, or sending multiple voicemails.

Is Texting HIPAA Compliant? It Depends

Is texting HIPAA compliant? If you’ve ever asked that question, you now know it largely depends on how your workplace is trained. After conducting a risk assessment, establishing policies and procedures, and training your employees accordingly, your texts can be HIPAA compliant.

Are you ready to take the next step and start looking into developers that can provide easy HIPAA-compliant texting solutions? iPlum not only provides HIPAA compliant texting but also calls, voicemail, and IVR. Get started with iPlum’s affordable text messaging service today!

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