Are you texting your patient? Wait! Read this to make sure that you don’t violate the HIPAA standards.

Are you texting your patient? Wait! Read this to make sure that you don’t violate the HIPAA standards.

In the Healthcare Industry, communicating with a patient or a client is nearly ubiquitous between medical practitioners.  Whether you are a business associate or any covered entity communicating with your patient, you are responsible for protecting their confidential information. Because with the increasing rate of cybercrime in the industry it is more than necessary in the current situation to safeguard the reports and information of the patient and protect their identity henceforth.  

Just getting a message from the doctor or the physician is the easiest communication method for a patient. But behind that is the most systematic and regulated set of rules and policies HIPAA has prepared. Texting, per se, is not a federal offense until it sustains any confidential information regarding the patient. According to the HIPAA guidelines, an organization must know the place of origin, management, the process of transmission, and maintenance of e-PHI (protected health information) before starting the process of texting or emailing their patient.

Can texting or E-mailing your patient violate HIPAA compliance?

For clinical care, communicating online with a patient or even with their respective colleagues regarding their patient can violate the federal law. It is imperative for the organizations to thoroughly read, understand and then subsequently follow the guidelines stated by the law. To protect the identity of a patient, an organization has to make sure that the delicate information of the patient doesn’t get leaked during transmission. 

Any form of communication done between the patient and the hospital ascertains a level of risk. Moreover, text messages sent by the providers are not cryptic; therefore it is easy to interpret them during transit. You must send your texts and emails to the patient in compliance with the HIPAA guidelines. If found breaching, your organization can be in trouble, and your organization’s practice can also be prohibited in the healthcare industry.

How to include texting in your compliance program?

Whether you are a clinical care, covered entity, business association or a medical practitioner like a nurse, doctor or a physician communicating with a patient, it is mandatory for you to maintain the telecommunication compliantly.

To include texting in your compliance program, you must follow these precautionary measures:-

  1. There should be proper training of the workforce related to the communication process.
  2. Make sure that the texts or the e-mails are encrypted or secured otherwise.
  3. Inform the patient and their family in advance about the security issues regarding the privacy of the texts.
  4. Ensure that during the transmission of e-PHI (Protected Health Information) between the different care providers and entities, HIPAA guidelines must be followed. 
  5. Make the messages cloud-based for better security and keep nothing in your phone.
  6. You must encrypt the function of message delivery (confirmation of message received) as well as message storage time period, i.e., for how long a message will stay in the system.
  7. Always get your process and format of communicating approved by your compliance officer.
  8.  If given an option, always opt for vendor-supplied secured messaging application to communicate with the patient.

Need for a Compliance Officer

A compliance officer’s role is more than just securing the data. He is appointed to make sure that every department in the organization should follow the guidelines by the law. So, when a provider has to communicate through texting or mailing, he/she must run it through the compliance officer before sending. The officer will be helpful in determining whether the message or the response by the provider complies with HIPAA or not. And if in any case, it is disclosing any confidential information, the officer must correct the text and make it accommodating. 

The officer has all the rights to supervise, manage and train the employees regarding the privacy policies for texting. He is responsible for developing and maintaining the security system in accordance with the compliance guidelines.

Why is HIPAA imperative?

An estimated proportion of 78% of medical practitioners use the internet and other telecommunication services to contact and converse with their patients. You need to understand and inculcate the right strategies to use these online services while replying or talking to your patient.

Though texting occurs both ways in communication, the party responsible for the breach is only the healthcare entity. The law doesn’t apprehend any punishment on the patient, and they are free to transpire anything to the doctor. The administration of sending, maintaining and keeping the records of the messages is only your responsibility as a provider.  The onus of the breach of the law will entirely fall on the physicians or the nurses contacting the patient.

Authorized punishment regarding the breach of the law:- 

The Department of Health and Human Services’ Officer for Civil Rights (OCR) has all the rights to determine the type and level of punishment after HIPAA violation. You, as a healthcare service, will have to pay a hefty fine for the breach. 

  • The penalties vary in reasonable causes and not willful neglect from $1000- $50,000.

  • In the case of willful negligence, it ranges from $10,000-$50,000.

  • And if the willful negligence is not corrected, it can be fined from $50,000-$150,000.

Conclusively, the law plays a vital role in making the healthcare industry transparent and more secure for patients. Everyone in clinical care plays an integral part in ensuring that a patent faces no problem while visiting their hospital. Moreover, they have to make sure that the services won’t stop even when a patient leaves their hospital. Therefore, to stay out of trouble and to serve the patient right, complying with HIPPA is a must for any healthcare organization. According to the OCR, the penalties illustrated above shall be applied to the defaulters who are found guilty of breaching the law and according to the level and the nature of their respective violation punishments will be imposed on them.