Communication technology is more advanced than ever, with a multitude of options for text, voice and video communication. In a clinical environment, one of the quickest ways to communicate with other staff members is through text messaging. However, in most circumstances, standard texting services are not secure enough for a clinical setting. If clinical staff were to use unsecured text messaging, they would risk confidential patient information falling into the wrong hands, violating HIPAA compliance regulations. How, then, can and should clinical texting be done?

HIPAA Compliance Defined

HIPAA stands for Healthcare Insurance Portability and Accountability Act. In short, it determines who can and cannot receive and use individual patient healthcare information. This data is highly sensitive and can be misused in many ways. But there’s a lot more to HIPAA compliance than that.

Definition of HIPAA terms:

  • Protected Health Information (PHI): PHI is any patient information that is considered confidential between a doctor and a patient. It’s any demographic, identification, communication or medical information that is government-provided, private or in other ways protected by law.
  • Electronic Health Records (EHR): EHR is a patient’s medical history or other medical data stored on healthcare databases. This data is what clinical staff members use to determine proper treatment for patients, and it’s also where they record changes and treatment actions.
  • Covered Entities: A covered entity is any healthcare provider, health plan and healthcare clearinghouse involved in the transmission of PHI. It’s anyone who has contact with the patient or who uses the patient’s information and/or EHR for medical purposes.

HIPAA Regulations Clinical Staff Need to Know

  • HIPAA Privacy Rule: This rule applies to HIPAA covered entities and sets security standards for protected health information, along with patients’ rights to it and a physician’s ability to confirm or deny access to it.
  • HIPAA Security Rule: This rule applies to covered entities and their business associates regarding how PHI is to be shared, maintained, handled or transmitted, particularly electronically (ePHI). It provides regulations that apply to technical, administrative and physical use of this data.
  • HIPAA Breach Notification Rule: This rule sets standards for communicating among covered entities, business partners and patients in the event that secure healthcare information is breached. These standards depend in part on the type of breach, large or small, or “minor breach” or “meaningful breach”.

Why HIPAA Matters to Modern Communication

Data Encryption

Most electronic communication isn’t secure, particularly text messaging. PHI and EHR must be encrypted in various ways to be HIPAA compliant. The signal by which a message with such data is sent must be contained in a secure network, where it cannot be intercepted or read by anyone without access. Also, a device such as a smartphone that sends such messages must be secured and encrypted in such a way that only the primary owner can use it. This prevents anyone without access to patient information, particularly a prospective thief, from simply picking up the device and walking off with it.

Communication Accountability

HIPAA regulations require communication accountability in healthcare. Therefore, the ability to secure data must come from a trusted source, such as hospital administration or a certified and vetted third party that specifically provides options for secure clinical communication. Additionally, clinical staff themselves must be well-educated on HIPAA compliant messaging so that they can keep their patients safe and practice better and more secure interprofessional collaboration.

Secure Software and Storage

Android OS smartphone SMS messages are not encrypted, and while Apple OS messages (iMessages) are, they are stored on Apple’s commercial servers and are thus not protected according to HIPAA regulations. This means that to practice secure communication in healthcare through modern methods, clinical staff must use devices and software that are encrypted through private means. This storage can be an internal data center, a dedicated network and/or secure cloud storage. It can also be done through an accountable third party that works in collaboration with the organization.

The Need to Update

Older technology such as healthcare paging systems is HIPAA compliant due to its analog nature, limited storage and inability to transfer large quantities of data. However, physician and nursing communication is rapidly evolving beyond what legacy systems can handle. Telehealth data communication is becoming far more common, and in order to improve an individual’s care experience, security measures must be put in place to ensure that the patient stays both safe and informed.

Vocera Texting and Collaboration Suite

One method of securely communicating PHI and EHR is through the services of a certified and accountable third party communication organization. Of the many that exist, Vocera clinical communication technology is at the top of the industry.

They provide proprietary hospital communication devices that are closely monitored and well-secured, such as wearables and smartphones. They also offer a robust software system, which includes a HIPAA compliant texting app that clinical staff can use to securely communicate patient data content and make informed decisions regarding treatment.

This app, called Vina, supports text and speech and works with iPhone and Android, while providing the network security that these systems lack. Vina can also be locked physically in the smartphone through email, PIN and biometric ID barriers. It has a ranking and triage system that manages messages using data like communication history, individual availability, delivery status, priority/urgency, type of communication and read receipts. This ensures that everyone is up-to-date and confident of the reliability and security of the system, and also that workflow is as uninterrupted as possible. Furthermore, the app is not limited by geography and can be used both inside and outside the clinical setting.

Vocera also has a data communication hub called Collaboration Suite, which enhances care teams’ ability to communicate in large groups and give and receive decision support. Furthermore, Vocera knows the importance of making sure communication is efficient and not distracting. Their systems and alarm settings are highly customizable and can help eliminate or limit the use of many alerts and notifications that result in alarm fatigue.

If you’re in need of a new, secure, HIPAA compliant communication system or would like more details, please contact us today!