What is HIPAA secure messaging?
What is HIPAA secure messaging? A definition.
HIPAA secure messaging means that the exchange of patient information – often referred to as protected health information (PHI) – between physicians, nurses and hospital employees is exchanged via a secure and encrypted platform which adheres to the mandates of Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act (HIPAA) regulations.
Failure by healthcare employees to use a HIPAA secure messaging application when exchanging messages with colleagues that contain PHI can constitute a HIPAA fine. Indeed, HIPAA officials have cited health facilities for exchanging PHI that was neither encrypted nor password protected. If and when a HIPAA fine is instituted, the fine can reach several million dollars.
What is required of a HIPAA secure messaging app?
HIPAA secure messages that contain PHI must follow the mandates of the 1996, 2003 and 2013 HIPAA legislation passed by Congress which require:
- the upholding of patient privacy (Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act of 1996)
- the use and disclosure of PHI by “covered entities” such as health insurers (2003 Privacy Rule)
- increased scrutiny of messages containing PHI as well as increased fines for noncompliance of up to $1.5million. (2013 Final Omnibus Rule)
Since 2013, HIPAA secure messaging has gained significantly more importance among healthcare providers as legislation has since spelled out the conditions under which it was possible to exchange PHI between healthcare professionals. Since that time, hospitals have increasingly realized that exchange of PHI via pagers risks a HIPAA violation and a significant fine.
What are HIPAA secure messaging’s benefits?
The benefits of HIPAA secure messaging are highlighted when one simply reads how the use of such an application improves communication between nurses and physicians. Rather than tracking down colleagues via pager and not being able to reach them in a timely manner, the use of a HIPAA-secure texting app facilitates communications.
Decreased Costs and Improved efficiency
According to the Ponemon Institute, the use of traditional pagers in a healthcare setting adds on to the cost and time it takes to care for a patient. The Ponemon Institute notes that pagers cost the healthcare industry approximately $11B per year. These costs were the result of pagers causing delays in providing patient care as well as in wasted time from using pagers to coordinate care. Waiting to get access to the right doctor as well as exchanging the correct information were all delayed due to pagers.
One of the main benefits of HIPAA compliant messaging is seen through the advantages they have in bettering patient outcomes. According to a study by the University of Pennsylvania, “patients whose hospital care providers used mobile secure text-messaging as a means of communication had shorter lengths-of stay compared to patients whose providers used the standard paging system to communicate”. The results of the study further indicated that mobile secure text messaging may help to improve communication among providers leading to more efficient care coordination and allowing patients to leave the hospital sooner.
Although physicians often prefer to exchange emails rather than send text messages, increasing scrutiny of their communication methods is pushing them to use HIPAA secure messaging with greater frequency to ensure that any PHI that is communicated maintains its security and encryption.
The main advantage to physicians of using HIPAA secure messaging over email and pagers is that HIPAA compliant messaging applications ensure message accountability and practically eliminate the need for physicians to play phone tag. This means that physicians can spend less time trying to reach out to colleagues and then wait for response. Instead, they can be assured that they will get a quick response to their texts and that as a physician they can then return to their focus of patient care.
Nursing units will see the benefits of HIPAA secure messaging platforms because these platforms will inevitably improve their mobility and patient outcomes. One example of this can be seen when nurses need a second opinion on an EKG, they can immediately forward the image of the EKG to a colleague along with their comments. With a HIPAA secure messaging app, they can be assured that their colleague will see the image and notes. This assurance comes from the persistent alerting functionality of the OnPage application.
Additionally, secure messaging can improve patient outcome, by enabling nurses to transmit photos to the consulting physician. This secure exchange of information will enable nurses to provide patients with faster and better care. The speed and efficiency this enables will also provide patients with increased satisfaction, and a decrease in length of stay.
Learn more about the benefits of HIPAA secure messaging in our whitepaper on the Benefits of HIPAA Compliant Texting.