If you work in the medical field, you've almost definitely been briefed on what is and is not HIPAA compliant.
One of the most important goals (aside from protecting the health and safety of patients) of medical professionals is ensuring patient privacy and security, and breaching that privacy has consequences that range between a slap on the wrist and jailtime.
But what do you know about texting?
Sometimes you're in a tight spot and you need to get information from one place to another quickly. How much do you risk with a text in a tight situation?
HIPAA texting isn't super clear-cut, and there are ways to navigate it. If you were wondering how to stay HIPAA compliant while maintaining ease of communication, continue reading.
What Does HIPAA Say?
In truth, texting is somewhat of a new phenomenon. It's only in recent years that people texted frequently, and it became a primary form of communication.
Texting specifically isn't mentioned in HIPAA at all, which makes this whole conversation a little bit ambiguous. There is, however, language about messages passed through electronic means and how they're to be handled when they're in transit.
Basically, it needs to be ensured that there is no risk of third-party access to messages containing private health information while the message is in transit. Otherwise, the text has to include no signs of personal identifiers.
It is also possible to text patients themselves, so long as the patients have been warned of the risks inherent in texting through channels that may not be secure.
But how can you make your standard texts more secure so you can easily communicate information between doctors? Let's look at the safeguards that HIPAA wants to have in place.
What Technical Safeguards Are In Place?
For a text system to be HIPAA compliant, a few needs need to be met. For one, the activity of people using the system has to be monitored (or at least have the ability to be monitored).
Any personal health information that's transmitted between devices must be able to be destroyed or scattered if it's intercepted by a malicious third party. This means that the system has to essentially be "hacker proof".
Also, all users should have some kind of personal identifier present within the system.
While texting is convenient (and sometimes necessary in times of crisis), HIPAA wouldn't consider most text messages secure enough by these standards alone. Text messages remain on servers and in logs indefinitely, making them open to malicious intent and use. They're not as private as people like to think.
All messages can also be accidentally miss-sent, which would be catastrophic. They could also be forwarded, either by accident or on purpose by a malicious employee. Messages can be edited and phones can be stolen and used for bad purposes or to impersonate medical professionals. There's no security over the information once it leaves the hands of the sender.
For HIPAA, this wouldn't be safe enough. That's unacceptable when dealing with people's private health information.
But if that's the case, how can you handle this in your offices or hospitals? How can you safely communicate without risking the breach of private health information? Is there a HIPAA compliant way to text?
There might be.
HIPAA Texting Does Exist
There are secure messaging solutions in the form of secure messaging solutions and alternatives that can still be used right on your cell phones. This allows you to continue the ease of communication that you've grown used to while still protecting the private information of your patients.
One kind of secure messaging solution is the kind of HIPAA texting apps that are considerably safer for you and your staff to use if you want to stay HIPAA compliant (and you should want to stay HIPAA compliant).
These apps have a way of keeping conversations encrypted, thus keeping them safe from any prying eyes. In the easiest cases, you just set up a second phone number through these applications. It feels no more cumbersome than your standard texting, but it's entirely safe and HIPAA compliant.
You can add your whole team to this app (and you should). This ensures that they're all able to communicate smoothly and easily without much extra effort.
It doesn't just have to stop at texting though. It can also include HIPAA compliant calling and voicemails. This covers your bases for electronic communication across the board, making your life as a medical professional (or someone who handles medical information, at least) considerably easier.
You can even use a preexisting phone number, making it very easy to make the switch. If your patients already know your phone number, it might be confusing or frustrating for them to make changes. Using a pre-existing number makes the transition painless and easy. There's no reason not to switch over.
Are You Ready to Make the Switch?
HIPAA compliant texting doesn't have to be complicated. You can even do it from the phones that you already have.
HIPAA texting apps and services make it easy to stay compliant with the law and avoid releasing private health information accidentally. It's part of your job to protect the information of your patients, and encrypted messaging services will help you do just that.
If you want to avoid hefty fines and potential jail time, the only reasonable option is to consider an encrypted messaging service. Protect your patients, your staff, and yourself.
For more information on HIPAA compliant texting and how you can get started with it today, check out our site. You can learn about all of the services that we offer.