Quality healthcare is safe, effective, patient-centered and always accessible. An average American adult uses the phone for daily tasks and management, including healthcare. As such, they rely mostly on their devices to communicate with their hospitals and trusted healthcare professionals.
This breaks down the barriers to more accessible healthcare. However, this also can prompt concerns about data privacy and HIPAA compliance. With a variety of live chat and text services, how do you know which ones are secure?
What Is Text Messaging? Is It Different From Live Web Chat?
Live or web chats are everywhere now—whether you're online shopping, visiting a government website or banking. This feature common in websites is the modern successor to the customer service phone call.
Live chat is powered by the internet and allows for instant messaging between organizations and potential customers via a website. Companies sometimes use AI-powered instant replies to respond to their customer's inquiries for brevity and efficiency, but the most effective live chat services are powered by human agents for more accurate and immediate responses.
Text messaging, on the other hand, uses a cellular network to exchange short messages between two or more mobile devices. Patients don’t need an internet connection or to use the same app as your healthcare practice to send messages. What's more, text messaging is available on all cell phones.
When it comes to healthcare, consistent and reliable communication isn't just a perk but a necessity.
Now that we've established the differences and advantages of both messaging systems, let's see how they comply with HIPAA.
What Is HIPAA?
As a healthcare practitioner or business owner, you already know this, but it never hurts to review in context of technology and text messaging: Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act of 1996 (HIPAA) protects patients' sensitive health information and makes sure these data are not disclosed to anyone without the patient's consent.
The Privacy rule, in particular, covers the rights of the patients to understand and control how health organizations control their information. The goal is to keep the patients' data secure while allowing the exchange of important information to better care for the patient and to advance public health.
For instance, medical practitioners can’t share patient health information (PHI) with the public or another individual. But with the patient's consent and by removing the identifying details in the case, they can share the data with fellow practitioners or scientists. By doing that, they can ask for counsel, study the statistics and devise more effective ways to cure the patient and other people with similar illnesses.
What Does Text Messaging Do For Patients And Clients?
Text messaging can literally save lives. It ensures reliable communication, especially when referring physicians. As it doesn't need apps or an internet connection, it always allows for timely communications between health clinicians, specialists and patients.
When time is of the essence, sharing PHI should be immediate, private and to the point. Without the confusing features and buttons in other chat apps, medical practitioners can easily share vitals, pertinent information and patient history without a fuss.
This will make decision-making, care, and assistance fast and effective.
Why Is Text Messaging Right For Your Practice?
80% of people in North America use text messaging. If your potential patients use text for communication, doesn't it make sense that you communicate in the same way? Not only that, but practices that implement modern communications experience better patient outcomes.
Text Messaging Success Stories
Kannisto and colleagues (2014) found that 77% of patients reported improved outcomes when updated using text messaging. This includes higher rates of adherence to medication and treatment plans, as well as better appointment attendance.
In another study by Hall, Cole-Lewis, and Bernhardt (2015), they found that the majority of published text-messaging interventions worked with addressing diabetes self-management, weight loss, physical activity, smoking cessation and medical adherence versus non-text communication.
Other Benefits Of Text Messaging For Healthcare Practices
- Accurate connection to on-call providers. Many clinics rely on text messages to communicate. It's an effective way to share alerts and updates as in the case of emergency operations or procedures. It also allows for quick post- or pre-medical check-ins, so doctors can check on their patients in between appointments.
- Work-life balance for medical providers. Some organizations acquire text messaging and communications services to take some weight off their medical practitioners. Especially when doctors have a long or close relationship with their patients, as is the case in many rural centers, access to the family physician is sometimes taken for granted. When someone's sick in the family, patients are sometimes overwhelmed with emotions, and their tendency is to contact their physician right away. However, medical personnel need rest and work-life balance, too. Having a HIPAA-compliant text messaging service helps triage those contacts.
- Data sync across practices. With regular text prompts, you don't have to worry about filling vacant shifts or roster reminders anymore. You can also remind staff about internal meetings. A record of communication also makes it easier for admin staff to quickly connect and follow up with patients.
- Cost benefits of outsourcing. Not only will you be free of communications tasks within your team, but you'll also save money on hiring an in-house customer relations team. With a dedicated virtual receptionist partner like Nexa, you can focus more on taking care of your patients while we help you build better communications and relationships with them.
- Ability to scale operations quickly. When it comes to delivering quality services, simplicity and efficiency are key. Nexa can help you implement and manage your text messaging program, and we can tailor our services depending on your organization's and patients' needs into the future as well.
How can you implement text messaging today?
Your medical and administrative staff can't do everything in the hospital or practice—answer calls, respond to inquiries, save lives. They need a break from time to time so they can focus on what's important: taking care of the patients.
Nexa can help you integrate text messaging seamlessly into your operations. You can simply connect to your chosen CRM software, so your patient care records are always up-to-date, accurate and available. We can improve your overall workflow without the fuss. We're here to take the extra workload off your hands so you can better focus on your patients.
What's more, your patients will not have to deal with impersonal AI messages when they're worried about their health or a loved one. Our team of expertly trained virtual receptionists will answer every call or text with empathy and compassion and address issues efficiently.
FAQ About HIPAA-Compliant Text Messaging
What Is HIPAA Compliant Texting?
HIPAA (Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act) regulates how healthcare providers and related businesses record, store, manage and share patient's private and personal medical information. Now that you know a little about HIPAA let's take a closer look at what HIPAA compliant texting is and how it can help. HIPAA compliant texting is a unified and secure communications solution that helps healthcare providers and patients exchange protected health information (PHI) via text or social media messaging, the most preferred method of communication for young people.
Additionally, it protects patient-doctor confidentiality and helps them connect more effectively than video calls or e-mails. It's convenient and affordable, and the preferred way to contact, as long as you don't have to get an answer immediately. There are a variety of tools that provide HIPAA compliant messaging solutions to healthcare providers and patients. However, physicians and health systems must tread with caution when communicating via text with patients.
Be mindful of the risks associated with HIPAA compliant texting, and develop precautions and policies to alleviate adverse legal consequences. For example, the failure to use a HIPAA compliant texting application when sending messages that contain patient's sensitive information can lead to a hefty HIPAA fine.
How HIPAA Compliant Text Messaging Works?
A HIPAA compliant text messaging connects an authorized user to a secure network of other approved users. It is a secure messaging solution that enables multiple parties to have confidential discussions to enhance workflows, increase productivity, and reduce costs. Once logged into the app, users can exchange protected health information (PHI), share images, documents, and videos securely with other authorized users. All communications are encrypted to protect them from access by third parties.
Furthermore, the network monitors all the activity by the secured text messaging platform. The platform produces activity reports so that admins can ensure that they are working with a HIPAA compliant texting service and follow organizational texting policies.
These text messages are secured and encrypted to prevent the health information from being altered or stolen by unauthorized use, saved to an external hard drive, or sent outside of the healthcare organization's private network in any way.
At Nexa, we promote HIPAA compliant text messaging, and the data in our web-app is protected and encrypted. We also encourage our staff to comply with HIPAA rules regarding text messaging to maintain integrity and ensure that only authorized staff members can message patients.
What Is A Good Guide to HIPAA Compliant Text Messaging In Healthcare?
An effective messaging policy much apply to the healthcare organization in its entirety, including all workers, doctors, and affiliates. In a healthcare environment, HIPAA compliant texting apps can also raise the standard and quality of healthcare received by patients, like diagnoses, laboratory results, physician consults, and discharges can all be accelerated by secure messaging.
Furthermore, the applications that process, store, or transmit protected health information (PHI) or other sensitive information must also be assessed as per the HIPAA policies. A policy for HIPAA compliant messaging should be established to promote secure messaging. Any message that contains PHI must comply with HIPAA rules regarding text messaging. All such messages must be sent in a protected, encrypted, and confidential environment.
In addition to encryption standards, it is essential to set the course of action for the health care information content to be shared via secure text messaging. The Department of Health and Human Services echoes the same concerns when it states that organizations must:
- Ensure the secrecy, reliability, and accessibility of all electronic PHI created, received, maintained or transmitted
- Protect it from a security breach and any unauthorized access and integrity of the information
- Have a technique for a remote wipe that enables to remotely erase the patient information on the mobile phone in case the device is misplaced or stolen
- Make sure the compliance by users of the information
While these rules are important, the staff and patients must also be comfortable exchanging relevant information and be certain that their interactions are safe from HIPAA violations. This makes it all the more important to implement an effective policy for the use of HIPAA compliant text messaging with the relevant safeguards. This ensures the accuracy of the information being sent by the health care staff.
Are Your HIPAA Compliant Texting Policies In Place?
Most health care providers prefer to use text messaging to improve patient engagement and outcome, either to communicate with patients or for the team to collaborate internally. Therefore, it is crucial to use a secure, HIPAA compliant text messaging platforms and servers from trusted providers.
When it comes to HIPAA regulations and secure text messaging, privacy, and security policies must be put in place under HIPAA rules to prevent any unauthorized access to protected health information (PHI) during transmission. For compliance when using HIPAA and texting, a covered entity must meet the following two specifications – protect the integrity and encrypt the protected health information during transmission.
Healthcare organizations can enforce HIPAA compliant messaging by ensuring that all employees, affiliates, physicians, and third-party contractors and vendors know and apply HIPAA's guidelines. It is necessary to secure the protected health information (PHI) – especially if sensitive information is being sent via any mobile device by healthcare professionals. When sharing PHI via secure text messaging on mobile devices, it is vital to comply with HIPAA guidelines to avoid security threats.
With HIPAA rules in place, healthcare providers can guarantee the data safety and confidentiality of their health information, while providing patients the accessibility of seamless interaction. The best approach to avoid such situations is to ensure that all the tools used are HIPAA compliant. A HIPAA compliant tool will have strong encryption, access controls, self-audit, and authorization protocols.