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What is HIPAA Compliant Texting and How Do Health Apps Use It?
Text messaging is becoming an increasingly popular and important method of communication between healthcare providers and patients. Texting allows easy and free communication that can get a message to a customer at almost any time and in almost any place.
But while convenient – and affordable – health care providers need to walk a fine line when communicating with the public: HIPAA.
What Is HIPAA?
HIPAA stands for the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act. The law, passed by Congress in 1996 and signed by then-President Bill Clinton, was instrumental in modernizing the flow of healthcare information. In particular, it outlines how personally identifiable information that is held and used by the healthcare industry, including insurance companies, should be protected from fraud, theft, and misuse. It also sought to correct some limitations regarding healthcare insurance coverage.
Personally-identifiable information is the key aspect of the HIPAA law that relates to texting. The definition of personally identifiable information varies in part depending on what agency is regulating it. But for the purposes of the HIPAA law in the United States, personally identifiable information generally refers to any information about an individual maintained by an agency or company. It can include information that can be used to distinguish or trace an individual’s identity, including name, social security number, date, and place of birth, and mother’s maiden name, and any information that is linked to an individual, inducing medical, educational, financial, or employment information.
What Happens if You Break the HIPAA Rules?
HIPAA compliance is a pretty big deal, and if you have employees at your practice you must show that they have been trained in HIPAA compliance – this is the first step in determining if a lack of training resulted in a violation.
HIPAA violations are graded based on a number of factors, including:
- The nature of the HIPAA violation
- If the violation was willful or of malicious intent
- If the offending party took action to correct the violations
- What sort of harm was caused
- How many people were impacted
- And if the violation falls under HIPAA’s criminal provision
There are two types of penalties for HIPAA violations:
- Civil penalties for HIPAA violations start at $100 per violation and can rise to $25,000. They are applied when the individual was aware or should have been aware that the rules were being violated, but may not apply if the violation is corrected within 30 days.
- Criminal penalties have a minimum fine of $50,000, with a maximum set at $250,000, and there is also the possibility of paying restitution to victims and facing a jail term.
HIPAA Rules for Texting Patients
Of course, when the 1996 law was written, texting was barely a thing. Today, it is a leading form of communication – fast, easy, reliable, and convenient. HIPAA law as it pertains to texting can be fairly easily interpreted.
Today, texting is a popular form of communication with patients and can be legal if certain guidelines are followed. The most important factor to keep in mind is the safe handling of personal protected health information.
- Senders should establish procedures and policies to manage who is authorized to access protected health information for the purpose of texting. This includes setting up unique user IDs, emergency access procedures, automatic logoff features, and messaging encryption.
- Senders should put in place audit and reporting controls.
- Senders should make sure that protected health information is not changed or destroyed during texting.
- Anyone sending or receiving HIPAA complaint texts must use some sort of credential to authenticate their identity.
- The integrity of protected health information must be protected during transmission.
How Do Health Apps Use HIPAA Compliant Texting?
A HIPAA compliant texting app is a secure messaging tool that allows healthcare organizations to protect personal health information while still allowing easy communication between patients and authorized users.
While many healthcare providers use secure texting as a standard form of communication, a new breed of texting apps is being used to enhance employee workflows, increase productivity, and elevate the patient experience.
HIPAA compliant texting apps work by sending the patient a notification link when a text is sent. The recipient can receive the message as a text on their phone, but only gain access to the link after verifying their identity, typically with a unique username and password. This opens the door for the patient to receive messages, send replies, and even include attachments like photos or identification documents.
Advanced secure messaging tools permit multiple parties to partake in confidential conversations, accelerating tasks such as the sending and receiving of diagnoses, lab results, physician consultations, and discharges.
HIPAA Compliant Texting Helps Deliver Better Patient Experiences
The use of HIPAA compliant texting is a key part of digitizing the patient journey. It helps to automate key patient encounters and streamline workflows. If your organization has a goal of delivering 5-star worthy patient experiences, then texting has to figure heavily in that goal.
HIPAA compliant texting can be used for a number of key patient interactions. These include:
- Making it easier to schedule appointments using mobile devices
- Simplifying the patient intake process by eliminating wait times and tedious paperwork
- Sending appointment reminders and other important pre-visit instructions, such as help on locating an office, the location of a nearby public transit stop, or hints about where to park
- Enabling video visits and the ability to rebook canceled appointments from the patient’s phone
Healthcare app development pros such as Digital Authority Partners can supply user-friendly tools that connect providers to patients, in the process improving medical outcomes and reducing hospital readmission rates. This tool can be part of a broader effort aimed at healthcare digital transformation, including healthcare website development, healthcare marketing, and healthcare SEO. In turn, this can lead to greater revenue, smoother operations, and enhanced patient satisfaction.
To learn more about HIPAA-compliant texting apps, contact Digital Authority Partners today.