HIPAA Compliant Communications are the Doctor’s Orders: Is it Time for a Check Up?
Even if you don’t work in healthcare, you’ve probably heard of HIPAA regulations. This healthcare legislation was signed into law in 1996 (near the dawn of the digital era) and consists of measures that protect patient privacy. HIPAA rules were put in place at both the personal and digital level to ensure that patient information is secure, standardizing policies and procedures and helping entities like hospitals and insurance companies provide safe, seamless experiences.
In the digital age, communication technology plays a critical role in the healthcare industry. It enables healthcare providers to exchange patient information electronically, reducing the risk of data breaches and increasing efficiency. However, with its increasing use in healthcare, it’s essential to ensure that the technology used is HIPAA compliant. Compliance is not just a benefit, it’s absolutely crucial. HIPAA is regulated by the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) and enforced by the Office for Civil Rights (OCR); failure to adhere to the rules can result in civil fines in the millions, and even criminal investigations and penalties.
HIPAA Compliant Communication Takes on Many Forms. Here are a Few.
There are a few basic requirements for technology that sends and receives Protected Health Information (PHI). These include automatic logoff for unattended devices, encrypted PHI, and unique identifiers for each medical professional. Each authorized user must be tracked across multiple devices, including mobile phones and pads, with a unique identifier that can be traced from one centralized location.
End-to-end security must be put in place to prevent accidental or unauthorized access of PHI. Some of the technologies available that can help with this security include:
Voice over Internet Protocol is a technology that allows you to make voice calls using an internet connection instead of a standard phone line. It’s more stable and secure than legacy/landline systems and can be made HIPAA compliant for even tighter security. S-NET’s cloud-based phone system can help with HIPAA compliance thanks to built-in features allowing you to screen out PHI during calls.
Contact Centers (such as S-NET Engage) help reach customers on their preferred communication channel (phone, email, chat, texting, etc.) and then store that interaction data in a central location. This makes it easier for users to track the customer experience and provide more informed, personalized customer service overall. But in the context of HIPAA, Contact Centers must be designed or customized to align with HIPAA compliant standards. Finding a provider that is experienced in both contact center design and HIPAA compliant communication is essential for ensuring your company’s contact center provides security for you and client PHI.
Call Centers help improve agent efficiency; S-NET’S Call Center solution allows users to provide better customer service, with a focus on improving the internal workflows for customer service reps with advanced capabilities like advanced IVRs, call queuing, and skill-based routing. Like Contact Center, Call Center features and workflows are also designed to be HIPAA compliant by S-NET’s experienced team.
Unified Communications as a Service brings cloud-delivered communications together under one umbrella, including telephone, instant messenger and video calls—which can be extremely helpful for keeping internal communications secure. This unified approach as well as built-in security measures help make sure all PHI is protected by a HIPAA compliant communication platform.
Software Defined Wide Area Networking empowers you to manage all users and locations from one secure, unified interface, increasing compliancy and efficiency. Built for managing cloud networking and security policies, SD-WAN equips businesses with the tools they need to prevent, identify, and eliminate threats to their data. It’s especially helpful for ensuring HIPAA compliant communications with the ability to oversee and manage the entire network, route traffic, and handle threats in real-time.
Secure Access Service Edge is designed to simplify and combine a business’ security solutions into a single platform, including their SD-WAN, networking and firewall—securing cloud-based systems and remaining on the cutting edge of security. SASE protects access to company networks and resources from any entry point and helps businesses keep up with changing security needs more easily, keeping them HIPAA compliant.
Firewalls are designed to safeguard your business against things like breaches, malware and viruses, but when it comes to HIPAA it’s important to upgrade this security even further. S-NET combines firewall protection to enterprise-grade level and combines it with Unified Threat Management for total security and peace of mind.
Do HIPAA Rules Apply to Me?
HIPAA rules affect any industry that even breathes near a healthcare entity. Did anyone from your business walk by a hospital recently? Boom! You’re affected. Okay, that’s not technically true, but if you even suspect that the rules apply to you, they probably do. HIPAA rules apply to two broad groups: Covered Entities and Business Associates.
Covered Entities include the usual suspects: primarily healthcare providers, meaning doctors, clinics, psychologists, dentists, chiropractors, nursing homes and pharmacies. It also includes health plans like insurance companies, HMOs, company health plans and government health plans that pay for things like Medicare, Medicaid and Veterans’ benefits. Finally, Covered Entities includes health care clearinghouses; entities that process nonstandard health information they receive from another entity into a standard (i.e., standard electronic format or data content), or vice versa.
A Business Associate is someone who helps carry out the health care activities and functions of a Covered Entity. To comply with HIPAA rules, the associate must have a contract that details the extent of these activities, and this contract must comply with the Rules’ requirements to protect the privacy and security of protected health information.
Still not sure? Here’s a handy Q&A to help you discover if you’re required to ensure HIPAA compliant communications: https://www.cms.gov/Regulations-and-Guidance/Administrative-Simplification/HIPAA-ACA/AreYouaCoveredEntity
Adhering to HIPAA rules is not only the law, but this practice also makes the patient experience smoother and easier by standardizing communications. It gives patients more control over their own health information, instead of it being hidden behind a doctor’s screen (or notepad, if you want to go way back). Data privacy also helps build trust between a patient and practitioner. Knowing their information is safe means a patient is more likely to share pertinent health details.
Pain Points? We Can Help.
Even though HIPAA laws have been in place since 1996, it can still be difficult for businesses to be compliant, especially if it’s new territory for them. In fact, in 2020 the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services found organizations non-compliant with HIPAA in 69% of its investigations. Some of the biggest roadblocks to compliance include:
- Compliance is time-consuming. It can sometimes require overhauling existing systems, which is taxing on an often-spread thin workforce.
- It may seem expensive. However, compared to the fees you face with non-compliance, these costs are not only worth it, but absolutely necessary.
- New technology can be confusing. We get it—learning new tech isn’t the world’s easiest endeavor. Even though HIPAA compliance is designed to make things easier in the long run, the initial learning curve can feel overwhelming.
Like all pain points, they can be alleviated with the right treatment (see what we did there?). Working with a communications provider like S-NET is a great place to start. We understand that each client has an individual set of needs when it comes to maintaining HIPAA compliance. Our vast selection of resources and depth of knowledge ensures that your particular compliance demands are more than just met, but actively monitored and updated. Security is built into our systems, and we’ve committed to becoming a HIPAA compliant communications provider. This not only helps give all our customers peace of mind, but also helps them to stay one step ahead of changing needs thanks to our unmatched attention to detail and personalized white-glove service model.
Security needs are always changing. S-NET is fully committed to keeping you and your customer’s data safe, allowing you to meet the demands of a dynamic world. For more information on keeping your organization HIPAA compliant, reach out to us and we’ll be in touch to help you!
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