Secure Text Messaging Benefits Extend Beyond ePHI Protection

Key Learnings

  • HIPAA compliance is still an expectation, despite OCR penalties on pause
  • Secure text messaging protects ePHI and HIPAA compliance
  • Benefits extend beyond ePHI protection to accelerated clinical workflows and more

Secure text messaging is essential in healthcare. Clinicians have to be able to consult with one another and communicate vital health information – quickly. But systems of records can be cumbersome and are not communication-first software.

As a result, to communicate and collaborate effectively, clinicians often revert to workarounds, texting using their own mobile devices – even though texting may not be HIPAA-compliant. It’s the classic case of using the tools at your disposable to get the job done. And it’s an increasing cause of frustration for care providers – that they don’t have a tool that meets both their clinical communication and HIPAA-compliance requirements. 

As described in MedCity News, “As the tenets of value-based care take hold, healthcare organizations are complaining that data privacy and security rules are hurting their ability to share data with other providers who are jointly responsible for a patient’s care episode.”

And it’s an understandable complaint – When collaboration is key to positive patient outcomes, clinicians must be able to streamline communication without putting patient information at risk.

So what’s the answer? To start, secure text messaging.

It provides the basic protections, but also can provide value beyond HIPAA compliance. Let’s start at the beginning: understanding the current state of HIPAA compliance regulations.

Despite temporary waivers, OCR expects HIPAA compliance.

During the COVID-19 national health emergency, the Office for Civil Rights (OCR) has temporarily suspended the imposition of specific penalties for non-compliance with HIPAA regulations. And, for many organizations, this has reduced the stress that comes with needing to communicate quickly during high-pressure medical situations.

However, even with the penalties suspended, the OCR still expects HIPAA compliance. And non-compliance still leaves healthcare organizations vulnerable – even if not by government penalties.

As detailed by HIPAA Journal, “Breaches between 2009 and 2019 have resulted in the loss, theft, exposure, or impermissible disclosure of 230,954,151 healthcare records. That equates to more than 69.78% of the population of the United States.”

Even with OCR penalties on pause, healthcare organizations are still expected, by OCR and by their very own patient populations, to protect patient safety and privacy.

Secure text messaging ensures HIPAA compliant communication, and provides the simplification of care communication clinicians are searching for.

Secure text messaging offers other benefits to healthcare systems.

While secure text messaging empowers clinicians to communicate in ways that are familiar and intuitive, secure text messaging is more than SMS.

For example, according to HealthITSecurity, “Healthcare organizations can authenticate a variety of users onto their networks and also enable secure communication across different sizes and types of providers.” That level of flexibility and integration allows for collaboration not just within, but outside of the health system.

Additionally, as HealthITSecurity also notes, secure text messaging provides access to communication records, which allows healthcare organizations to identify messages containing electronic protected health information (ePHI) and use audit trails to find clinical workflow issues.

“Practice managers and technologists should ensure that any secure communications platform includes an audit trail to monitor who sent what and when, with information encrypted while at rest and in transit,” as MedCity News explains. “All correspondence should be collected as part of a patient’s health record, with the proper document retention policies enforced. The system should interface with the practice management system or EMR, and any vendor should be able to clearly outline the security and privacy protocols that have been baked into the software.”

Final Thoughts.

The demand for secure messaging in healthcare continues to build in response to the need for swift and secure communication between care team members.

As the HIPAA Journal states, “Secure messaging in healthcare accelerates clinical workflows and has been shown to help accelerate patient throughput, reduce the potential for medical errors, increase patient satisfaction, improve clinical outcomes, and significantly reduce costs while ensuring compliance with HIPAA.”

However, not all secure messaging offerings are the same – and as I’ve written about before, it’s not a standalone solution for effective clinical communication.

When direct secure text messaging and role-based messaging are combined with voice, video, and alerts – healthcare organizations are truly empowered to streamline clinical workflows, increase collaboration, and improve patient outcomes.

Learn more about the power of secure role-based messaging combined with video, voice and alerts. Read our white paper, Making the Case for a Clinical Collaboration Platform.
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