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Last updated: Nov 11, 2021

Understanding HIPAA compliance in telemedicine

Author: Maria Tsarouva
Last updated: Nov 11, 2021
What's inside

Every medical professional or organization that provides remote healthcare services needs to adhere to HIPAA (Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act), but understanding what HIPAA is and its importance in telemedicine can be challenging.

In a nutshell, HIPAA was passed by Congress in 1996 and the guidelines help to safeguard medical information. This act also reduces healthcare fraud and abuse through the Privacy Rule and Security Rule.

Unfortunately, some organizations and healthcare professionals make the mistake of assuming that communicating ePHI (Electronic Protected Health Information) between patient and physician is perfectly safe, but there are specific guidelines that need to apply for it to be HIPAA compliant.

In this article, we'll help you understand these guidelines so that you or your organization can continue providing patients with the healthcare they need, while also being HIPAA compliant.

Let's get started.


What is the HIPAA Privacy Rule?

Protected Health Information (PHI) is safeguarded by the HIPAA Privacy Rule. This health information applies to patient medical records and other private health information.

The rule helps to ensure that only the minimum necessary health information about a patient can be used or shared. Healthcare providers, health plans, and clearinghouses that conduct electronic healthcare transactions need to adhere to this privacy rule.

What is the HIPAA Security Rule?

The HIPAA Security Rule (SR) focuses specifically on electronic Protected Health Information (ePHI). This rule sets the standards for how patient data is stored or transferred electronically. As you'll see below, SR has security standards for the three areas; administrative, technical, and physical.

Where are healthcare providers able to conduct telehealth services while still being HIPAA compliant?

Healthcare providers need to always use private settings when communicating with patients, and patients need to avoid using public areas when using telehealth services.

There are circumstances where complete private settings are unachievable. If that is the case, then the healthcare provider and patient need to implement reasonable HIPAA rules and regulations to limit disclosing private information.

These measures can include speaking in low tones or a healthcare professional requesting the patient to move away from people when discussing or disclosing PHI.


The challenges with regular means of communication

Most people are familiar with the usage of text messaging, Skype, or email as a means of communication between two parties. However, when it comes to telemedicine, these platforms of regular communication should be avoided as they pose a potential security risk. The reason for this is the lack of safeguarding these means of communication offer.

To fully grasp this, you need to understand the necessity of a BAA. When an ePHI developed by the medical sector is stored by a third party, a Business Associate Agreement (BAA) is necessary between the parties. The BAA needs to state how information is protected and the process of auditing to ensure continued data security.

The main challenge with texts, Skype messages, or email is that copies of these communications are stored by the service provider’s servers, and they are not HIPAA compliant. Unfortunately, this means that sensitive patient data has the potential of falling into the wrong hands.

Communication solutions

Since email, Skype, and text messaging are out of the equation, what other forms of communication that meet HIPAA rules and regulations can be used by telemedicine healthcare providers?

Secure messaging solutions are the best option.

These are great because they offer users the same speed and convenience that popular means of communication such as text, email, and Skype offers. However, what makes them most relevant is that they can be created to comply with the all-important Security Rule (mentioned above) that states that only certain authorized users can have access to ePHI. This helps to ensure communication stays safeguarded.

Are you fearful of introducing a new means of communication? That's understandable.

The challenge with introducing anything new is the fear that those who aren’t tech-savvy might struggle with the platforms. But you'll be glad to know that the secure messaging solutions for communicating ePHI are apps that most healthcare providers have interacted with. Their interface is also generic. This will allow users to instantly get comfortable with the messaging platform and understand how to navigate it.

A great feature of secure messaging is that if an authorized user happens to forget to log out of the app after communication, this triggers an automatic log-off.

When users interact within secure messaging apps, they are able to send texts, documents, images, videos (or any type of relevant content), to the relevant party, and these are immediately encrypted so that if they may be intercepted through a public Wi-Fi service, they will be unreadable. There are also safety elements that help to ensure that no private information can be shared outside of a specified private network.

In addition, any activity that occurs is further monitored so that HIPAA messaging rules and regulations are always adhered to.


Be HIPAA compliant today

Telemedicine is one of the most important solutions of our time. This introduction to the healthcare sector was started to ensure that healthcare professionals are able to provide patients with the health care they need, regardless of geography.

While it's been a great introduction to the healthcare sector, it has also come with its fair share of challenges, the biggest one being the safeguarding of HIPAA rules and regulations at all times.

Secure messaging solutions make this possible. They offer healthcare providers the safety and security required, improve efficiency and workflows, and reduce costs. They also play an important role in helping to increase the standard of healthcare that patients receive through the messaging platforms.

Healthcare institutions that are introducing the telemedicine route are also pleased with the ease and affordability of secure messaging solutions. While many might assume that a dedicated IT professional is necessary, the truth is that secure messaging is actually affordable.

At Vention, our dedicated team of engineers and developers have the capability to create the secure messaging solutions that any healthcare provider or organization needs. Our experts have a thorough knowledge and understanding of HIPAA and will ensure that they provide you with the best secure messaging solution that also meets and exceeds HIPAA guidelines.

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