HIPAA Compliant Texting for Therapists: What You Need to Know

Projections for smartphone use are nearing almost 4 billion users globally. Recently, healthcare professional apps have gained popularity. Currently, there are over 400,000 different health-care-related apps. HIPAA compliant texting for therapists is an area in the health field that can benefit from a secure app.

How can you trust an app? Rightfully so, many clinicians have expressed hesitancy over this transition into a digital world. Their main concerns stem from an app's trustworthiness and effectiveness.

Yet, remaining HIPAA compliant can save your business fines. It can also help maintain your company's reputation.

If you have been searching for the perfect text messaging app to use in the office or clinic, we have put together your must-read guide. Keep reading for more information on complaint texting for your therapists!

Table of Contents

1. What Is HIPAA?

2. Common HIPAA Violations

3. Is Texting HIPAA Compliant?

4. HIPAA Compliant Texting for Therapists

5. Why Therapists Need Text Messaging?

6. Secure Messaging Challenges

7. How Does Compliant Texting Work?

8. Why Should You Choose iPlum?

9. Future of Digital Healthcare

10. Start Securing Texting Lines Today

What Is HIPAA?

The Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act (HIPAA) started in 1996. It is a federal law that created a set of rules and standards for the healthcare industry. At its core, it helps protect patient health information.

There are two main points highlighted with HIPPA: Privacy Rule and Security Rule.

HIPAA Privacy Rule

The HIPAA Privacy Rule covers protected health information. It provides guidelines on how patient information can be distributed and used.

Ultimately, it helps clinicians and health workers communicate necessary information. When communicating, rules and safety measures are in place that protects the patient and public. What entities fall under the Privacy Rule?

  • Healthcare providers
  • Health plans
  • Healthcare clearinghouse
  • Business associates

These covered entities can distribute and communicate health information if a specific criterion is met.

HIPAA Security Rule

The HIPAA Security Rule falls under the Privacy Rule guidelines. The Security Rule helps take patient-protected information one step further. It covers information that entities create, receive, or transmit.

The Security Rule only applies to electronic information. It does not cover written or oral. The Security Rule helps ensure confidentiality, detect threats, and monitor compliance.


Common HIPAA Violations

HIPAA is a well-known acronym in the health care field and the cause of many audits and headaches. Many times, employees and healthcare workers inadvertently break HIPAA rules and regulations.

For starters, there are two common areas where HIPAA violations happen. These are at the employee and organizational levels. Typically, organizational violations cost more money and can put businesses out of practice.

Organizational HIPAA Violations

Organizational HIPAA violations often occur when businesses don't provide proper HIPAA training. Minor problems quickly compound until they become headlines in the news. Violations include things such as:

  • Unsecured patient health information
  • Cyber hacks
  • Not training employees
  • Disclosing patient health information
  • Improper information disposal

In some cases, clinicians disclosing health information or improperly disposing of it can cost organizations hundreds of thousands or millions of dollars. New York Presbyterian Hospital faced over $2 million in fines for filming patients without consent.

You can save your organization, clinic, or hospital significant amounts through proper training and adherence to HIPAA regulations.

Employee HIPAA Violations

An organization is responsible for implementing protocols and training staff members. However, staff members can sometimes unknowingly break HIPAA rules. It is vital that all aspects of HIPAA are regularly addressed.

Some of the more common violations include:

  • Sharing patient information over unsecured lines
  • Sharing protected health information to unauthorized parties
  • Losing mobile devices

Even giving away login credentials to other employees can be a HIPAA breach. There are a couple of simple steps that can help curb this problem: adequate training and secured phone lines.


Is Texting HIPAA Compliant?

In today's modern era, texting has become a fast form of communication between therapists, physicians, and other clinicians. When you ask, 'how to be HIPAA compliant,' the first step is addressing texting.

If you send specific patient-identifying information, it is not within HIPAA compliance.Text messaging options that follow HIPAA guidelines also include sending appointment reminders to the correct phone number. It entails communicating between clinicians about patient information over a secure line. Additionally, you should always focus on sending the least amount of information needed over a text message if you don't have a second phone line.

If you avoid identifying factors or patient information, it can fall within HIPAA guidelines. What if you don't want brief and confusing messages and would rather send your text messages without accruing costly fines?

HIPAA Compliant Texting for Therapists

HIPAA text messaging solutions include a second phone line. Opting for a trustworthy company that provides you with a HIPAA-compliant app ensures that your employees and therapists can make phone calls and text messages without breaking HIPAA rules and regulations.

The iPlum app includes:

  • Calling
  • Text messaging
  • Voicemail

How does this work with your current phone number? It works by securing a second phone line on your mobile device. This line has separate calling, messaging, voicemail, and visual features.

You don't need the other party to have the same app. Your calls will come across as a business phone number and ensure safe texting options.

Why Therapists Need Text Messaging?

The days of paper reports and documentation have become ancient history. Text messaging at work is becoming the new norm, but not in the way you think.

Messaging between therapists can help improve clinic productivity and efficiency. It can help therapists bounce ideas off each other and share critical information.

Therapists can also team up with receptionists in sending patient reminders. Additionally, they can communicate with the patient directly regarding:

  • Treatment
  • Results
  • Plan of care
  • Referrals

Secure text messaging can send emergency updates and public health announcements. Staff members can use it for staffing and scheduling. They do this by sending out messages through these secure lines inquiring about availability.

This becomes critical with patient caseloads and additional work hours if someone is off shift. Lastly, a therapist could also follow up with patients after they received care. They can set automated reminders on a plan of care instructions.


Secure Messaging Challenges

If you can just hide small details and send concealed messages, why would you want to pay for secure text messaging? For starters, companies that offer secure messaging have to follow specific rules for HIPAA compliance. There are three areas that standard SMS messaging falters at:

  • Access to controls
  • Audit controls
  • Encryption

Standard messaging is extremely challenging to access as an employer. In return, you can't control messages sent and received. If these messages are accidentally sent over an unsecured network, they can fall into the hands of hackers.

Since you can delete or alter personal messages, it does not adhere to HIPAA audit controls. HIPAA requires full access to text messaging on patient information, including:

  • Times of creation
  • Access
  • Sharing
  • Modification(s)
  • Deleted messages

Lastly, encryption ensures that messages fall into the hands of the intended recipient. Standard SMS messaging and networks do not fit these criteria.

How Does Compliant Texting Work?

HIPAA compliant texting and phone numbers work through a secure app. The app operates through an encrypted network that is secure and safe.

iPlum also has stringent standards and must meet HIPAA compliance regulations. They do this by adhering to audit controls and providing full access.

Information communicated between therapists across text messages is immediately stored in a cloud. The secure cloud stores this patient information separately from others, ensuring it does not fall into the wrong hands.

If a device becomes stolen or hacked, the administrator can immediately lock the app from any location. This prevents others from accessing the cloud and patient-sensitive information.

Additionally, compliance can be challenging to track, and iPlum solves this problem through analytics. Once therapists actively use the app, you can track interactions between staff members and patients. It helps you quickly and easily identify any issues or concerns.


Why Should You Choose iPlum?

With many secure text messaging options out there, you want one that fits your practice the best. At iPlum, there are a few key features that separate it from the pack:

  • Business Associate Agreement
  • Two text types (e.g., secure and normal SMS)
  • Compliant with Canadian and U.S. regulations
  • Multiple sub-accounts
  • Free for patient communication
  • Fax line

If you are wary of a second phone line, businesses often use a second line, even when HIPAA is not involved. Second lines can separate work and private messaging through separate ringtones and voicemail.

It can also seamlessly blend with your current carrier network, which means you won't need to switch plans or purchase a separate phone. You also have the option of setting up an auto-attendant, which allows automated greetings and extension options.

Automated features can boost productivity and streamline services. It also helps build patient rapport as it eliminates long holds and wait times.

If your business is directly connected to your personal phone, you may find it challenging differentiating personal calls from work-related ones. Secure mobile lines from iPlum eliminate this problem, keeping work and home life separate.

The best part is it is inexpensive, and you can cancel any time. Plans start at $4.99 and can help improve efficiency in the workplace, which saves you money in the long term.

Cloud Phone System

iPlum offers a Cloud Phone System that helps patients bypass operators and receptionists. In other words, it is a virtual receptionist.

You can set up automated features that transfer to various therapist extension numbers or departments. You can also add any announcements, hours of operation, or directions.

The cloud phone system is entirely free when businesses purchase the iPlum local or toll-free subscription. It also follows HIPAA and HITECH guidelines and standards to help keep your company secure.

Compliant With Canadian Standards

The Personal Information Protection and Electronic Documents Act (PIPEDA) is the Canadian version of HIPAA. It includes healthcare regulations and any businesses dealing with personal information.

Compared to HIPAA, PIPEDA standards encompass more consumer personal data. It includes retailers, marketing agencies, and health insurance companies.

Ten main principles must be followed in Canada under PIPEDA. Similar to HIPAA, there are hefty fines and penalties if these are not followed. In some ways, PIPEDA is stricter, and your encrypted text messaging app must adhere to both.

At iPlum, there are two different options for U.S. and Canadian lines. The second line in Canada lets you keep your original phone number and encrypts it to PIPEDA standards.

iPlum provides local Canadian numbers and cost-friendly plan options you can start choosing from today.

Future of Digital Healthcare

Did you know that text messaging response times in healthcare were over 200% higher than phone calls? On average, text message responses are within 15 minutes, whereas phone calls can take hours.

With automated services and digital apps, patient no-shows are decreasing, and appointment confirmations are increasing. Almost 80% of Americans reported they are open to receiving text messages from clinicians.

The COVID-19 pandemic pushed many clinicians and patients into a new digital world. With text messaging the go-to option between people, it makes sense that therapists could also benefit from patient and co-worker communication.

It also opens the door for telehealth opportunities and patient-provider relationships.

Start Securing Texting Lines Today

HIPAA compliant texting for therapists can be a difference-maker in your clinic and help keep your staff and patients safe. At iPlum, we offer various subscriptions and services in the United States and Canada that work with your current mobile phone.

Rather than purchase separate mobile devices and change numbers, you can simply add on a second line and start communicating immediately between staff members and patients.

Ready to get started? Check out our website and pricing today. You can find plans that work with small or large clinics in the United States and Canada at a low cost.

Authored by Keily Atterberg
a freelance writer specializing in content creation for mobile security. She also writes for many local & national publications.
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