Texting and HIPAA Compliance for Call Centers
Any company that provides an answering or call-forwarding service for the healthcare sector needs to be aware of their obligations under the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act (HIPAA). Following the introduction of the Final Omnibus Rule in 2013, companies that provide services relating to the processing, sharing, or storage of information for the healthcare industry must also be compliant with HIPAA’s Privacy and Security Rules.
A result of this is that call centers for healthcare providers must now have a third party validate that they are HIPAA compliant in their treatment of protected health information (PHI). Measures to ensure texting is done in compliance with HIPAA rules can be introduced simply and economically. HIPAA compliance has also been shown to increase efficiency – lightening workloads and improving service to patients.
Healthcare Organizations and Secure Texting Solutions
The main items concerning call centers are to be found under the HIPAA Security Rule. The Security Rule deals with issues of access to data, integrity of information, and protections against breaches of PHI.
A number of healthcare organizations use secure texting solutions that are HIPAA compliant and these could also be used by call centers. SMS, Instant messaging, and email are not considered compliant under the Security Rule.
By using a secure texting solution, call centers can be sure that the necessary protections, such as access control and message integrity, are in place and their PHI communications are HIPAA compliant.
HIPAA Compliance for Call Centers
Secure texting solutions require a centrally issued unique username and password combination to gain access to a private network. Therefore, only authorized users can connect.
Once connected, authorized users can share files and communicate with each other.
Security measures prohibit transferring data outside of the network, copying and pasting of data, and saving data to external hard drives. Access and behavior is recorded and communications which may breach PHI privacy can be recalled or remotely deleted.
Transmissions are encrypted to ensure they would be unreadable, undecipherable and unusable if they were intercepted on a public network and devices can be remotely locked should one be lost or stolen. All of this prevents unauthorized access to PHI.
Other features which can be introduced include “message lifespans”, which deletes PHI messages from a users’ device after a certain period of time, and time-outs, that log users out if the session has been idle for too long.
The Advantages of HIPPA Compliance for Communicating ePHI
As well as the call center itself benefiting from HIPAA compliance, the healthcare organization they serve will also benefit.
- HIPAA compliant texting services allow greater efficiency of communication with doctors during their shifts.
- Test results, X-rays, and other patient records can be sent to instantly give a more complete patient history
- Delivery notifications and read receipts help users track the information shared
- Call centers and healthcare providers can allow employees to use their own devices with the secure system and still be HIPAA compliant.
- Medical staff can make the most of the convenience offered by their mobile devices to better serve patients
- HIPAA compliant communications tools improve message accountability, as described below
A call center working with El Rio Community Health Centers near Tucson, Arizona, introduced a HIPAA compliant message solution to improve call support, patient follow-up, and message accountability.
They found response times improved such that 95% of concerns were answered in 60 seconds or less, message accountability increased by 22%, and a higher level of service was provided to patients.
Thanks to the ability to monitor communication metrics, Health Center administrators were able to streamline the workload and better address patient follow-up and risk management. Their CIO went on to say that communicating ePHI in compliance with HIPAA eliminated lost message errors which translated into increased patient satisfaction.
HIPAA Compliance for Call Centers – Summary
As mentioned above, call centers need to have their handling of PHI independently verified if they want to provide services to healthcare providers. There are also some other reasons why they should work to become HIPAA compliant.
By building on the streamlined workflow at the call center level, the healthcare provider can further improve their own workflow, leading ultimately to a better service provided to patients. The call center can then use this increase in overall efficiency as a competitive argument.
Secure texting applications are also cheap and easy to introduce as they are not dissimilar from messaging services that employees already regularly use in their personal lives. Therefore, only minimal training is required.
Given that these applications are provided as a “Software-as-a-Service” based in the cloud, there is no need to introduce new hardware, servers, or other IT infrastructure. “Out-of-the-box” solutions, they require minimal time to configure and may be handling all secure texting needs within 24 hours.