Is Text Messaging A HIPAA Compliance Violation?

Healthcare professionals rely on each other to share accurate patient data to ensure appropriate and timely care. Sometimes, prompt notifications about a patient can mean the difference between life and death. Many care centers have turned to text messaging as a way to connect doctors, nurses, and other staff. Text messages are a convenient, fast, and easy way to share critical information, but many providers struggle to develop a HIPAA compliant messaging system that offers all the benefits of mobile communication without the risk of a HIPAA violation. In fact, some professionals are unsure if sharing personal health information (PHI) is allowable under the HIPAA Security Rule regardless of applied safeguards. For many, the complexity of the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act of 1996 (HIPAA) and the stiff penalties that can result from breaking the rules are reason enough to avoid exploring text messaging as an option.

If you are reluctant to adopt a HIPAA text messaging system for your staff, then this article is for you. Read on to get the answers to your most pressing questions about PHI data sharing on mobile phones and to learn how you can minimize your liability and stay compliant.

Is Text Messaging HIPAA Compliant

Providers who send personal health information (PHI) via text message need to take reasonable steps to implement what is known as the Minimum Necessary Standard. This federally enforced standard applies to all electronic and digital personal health information (ePHI) and defines a set of rules that electronic record systems must follow when sharing ePHI, including:

  • Document and clearly classify all PHI by type
  • Maintain logs of all access events and attempted access events and, if possible, provide notifications about unauthorized access attempts
  • Establish role-based access controls that limit who can view, send, and receive certain types of patient data
  • Provide adequate training for employees and define a transparent sanctions policy for violators
  • Limit information sharing to include only that which is necessary to perform the immediate task
  • Proactively audit access permissions and perform periodic reviews of access logs to identify any mishandling or unauthorized use of restricted information
  • Record the action taken in response to known violations, including any sanctions that have been imposed

If you are feeling overwhelmed by the items on this list, you are not alone. The resources needed to ensure this level of audit control are time-consuming and costly for an organization of any size. For large medical centers with hundreds of staff members, like hospitals, the administrative implication is almost inconceivable.

What Counts as Personal Health Information (PHI) and How is it Regulated?

Another source of confusion for healthcare providers who wish to develop a HIPAA compliant secure messaging system for their employees is the definition of personal health information (PHI). What types of information are considered protected data and when are restrictions necessary?

The HIPAA Privacy Rule defines 18 different personal data points that must be protected, including any piece of unique information that could be used to identify a patient. Some examples include names, social security numbers, addresses, patient account numbers, photographic images, IP addresses, driver license numbers, and more.

The HIPAA Security Rule dictates that any communication or disclosure of health records that contain unique identifiers must be safeguarded at the technical, administrative, and physical levels. The managing organization is responsible for securing all of its electronic systems, as well as for the actions of every member of its staff, and the security of its buildings and storage facilities. The penalties for infractions depend on the severity of the offense and range from monetary fees to criminal charges and even jail time.


Should Healthcare Centers Avoid Sharing Patient Data via Text Communications

Mobile phone text message systems can be an invaluable tool for doctors, nurses, medical staff, and administrators. Rather than allowing fear and confusion to influence your organization’s data-sharing processes, healthcare professionals should arm themselves with the right tools and knowledge to ensure minimal risk and optimal performance. While the federal regulations may seem scary, a secure text messaging system is an obtainable goal for medical providers of all types and sizes.

How Can I Ensure HIPAA Compliant Text Communications?

The best way to reduce the risk of a HIPAA violation related to text messaging is to work with a mobile app developer that creates products made specifically for this purpose, like the innovative cloud-based platform offered by Halo. A well-designed messaging app paired with a comprehensive HIPAA standards training program can minimize your risk of a data breach and provide your staff with a state-of-the-art mobile messaging tool that will improve the way they coordinate patient care.

These types of text message apps will automate the administrative and technical tasks required to meet the Minimum Standard and offer plenty of convenient features that reduce user error. Some of these great features include:

  • Time-stamped logging of every communication with sent/read receipts
  • Preview recipients so messages always reach the right care team members
  • Strict security and advanced encryption protocols built right in
  • Backup escalation notifications that ensure critical information is communicated even if the original recipient does not respond
  • Patient centric message threads that eliminate ambiguity and minimize error
  • A national database of NPI-authenticated providers

What Other Benefits Do HIPAA Text Message Apps Offer?

Aside from the important job of protecting your organization from the liability of a HIPAA violation, healthcare mobile messaging apps can improve the overall workflow and administrative processes for all your medical staff. Other benefits of the Halo platform include:

  • Built-in scheduling and on-call availability coordination tools
  • VOIP voice calling inside and outside the hospital, regardless of location
  • Real-time patient care team collaboration tools
  • A dedicated team of IT professionals to integrate the app with your system and provide ongoing technical support

Who Should Consider a Secure Text Message App Like Halo?

Every healthcare provider, large and small, is responsible for ensuring HIPAA compliant communications within their organization. An app made for healthcare professionals can protect you, your staff, and your patients from inadvertent leaks and breaches of sensitive personal health data. By working with a reputable industry leader like Halo, you can feel confident that your organization is operating safely and efficiently. A healthcare-specific text message platform will handle all the details so you can worry less about the consequences of a HIPAA violation and get back to the business of caring for people.





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