Do you ever feel like going through your multitude of emails is like digging yourself out from underneath a huge pile? Just when you see a light at the end of the tunnel, the stack of messages once again becomes a mountain. 

It’s not surprising, then, that 85 percent of smartphone users prefer mobile messages to emails or calls. Most people open a text within three minutes, and this type of messaging boasts a 45 percent response rate — compared to email’s scant six percent. 

Even many clinicians seem to prefer utilizing text messaging to communicate with each other and patients because it’s quick, easy and convenient. They’re often using their mobile devices daily, anyway. Research has shown that 87 percent of physicians and 67 percent of nurses use personal mobile devices to support their workflows. 

Text messaging is a prime medium for conducting automated patient outreach, which is generating better outcomes amidst today’s complex healthcare landscape by increasing appointment attendance, driving preventative care, enhancing chronic disease management, improving medication adherence and reducing hospital admissions. It also expands access to health information while streamlining vaccine management during virus outbreaks such as the COVID-19 pandemic. 

PHI and HIPAA Compliance

Unfortunately, text messaging by healthcare providers is only a valuable resource if it meets the rules and regulations of the Security Rule of the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act (HIPAA). This rule, as noted by the United States Department of Health & Human Services (HHS), establishes national standards to protect individuals’ electronic personal or protected health information (PHI) that is created, received, used or maintained by a covered entity. Thus, it requires appropriate administrative, physical and technical safeguards. 

Why is PHI such an important asset? Because it includes individually identifiable health information, such as demographic data, medical histories, test results, insurance information and other data used to identify a patient or provide healthcare services or coverage. 

For a provider to send a text message with PHI to a patient, that patient must give his or her consent — or risk being in violation of the HIPAA Security Rule. No personal identifiers should be included in a provider-to-patient text message without permission from the patient. 

When the appropriate HIPAA guidelines aren’t followed, data breaches are more likely to occur. The HIPAA Security Rule refers to a breach as an acquisition, access, use or disclosure of PHI by an unauthorized individual. Four of the most common HIPAA violations have to do with PHI:

  • Insufficient ePHI (protected health information) access controls
  • Failure to use encryption or an equivalent measure to safeguard ePHI on portable devices
  • Impermissible disclosures of PHI
  • Improper disposal of PHI 

Cybercriminals often target healthcare providers because PHI is a valuable commodity. Stolen PHI can be a dozen times more valuable on the black market than credit card information, ranging from $10 to $1000 per record in online marketplaces. 

Prioritizing cybersecurity when using tools such as text messaging improves patient safety and can be achieved by following three major rules from the HIPAA Security Rule that apply to technology:

  • Any technology that stores PHI must automatically log out after a certain time to prevent access by someone without credentials.  
  • Anyone with access to PHI must have a unique login that can be audited based on their use.  
  • PHI must be encrypted.   

The Benefits of HIPAA-Compliant Texting Apps 

Healthcare providers who use HIPAA-compliant text messaging applications are able to fulfill the requirements of the administrative, physical and technical safeguards of the Security Rule. This not only mitigates the risk of malware infecting their practice’s computer systems but also accelerates the flow of communication, thereby increasing staff productivity. In medical facilities where secure texting solutions have been implemented, providers have reported an improvement in patient satisfaction. 

Patient engagement platforms that enable HIPAA-compliant text messaging are especially helpful to providers because it allows them to improve their ability to scale patient outreach through personalized patient communication and engage targeted populations. They can use customized messaging protocols tailored to patients meeting specific criteria such as age, risk factors, location, last visit date and more. 

Guidelines for Using a HIPAA-Compliant Texting App

Reliable and well-designed HIPAA-compliant text messaging solutions utilize encryption, which is the only method for effectively securing PHI. It works by converting sensitive data to an unreadable form, requiring a decryption key to view the information. 

HHS established a list of four key things every healthcare provider must do to be HIPAA-compliant with their text messages

  • Ensure the confidentiality, integrity and availability of all e-PHI they create, receive, maintain or transmit.
  • Identify and protect against reasonably anticipated threats to the security or integrity of the information.
  • Protect against reasonably anticipated, impermissible uses or disclosures.
  • Ensure compliance by their workforce. 

For more information on this topic, check out our blog on Five HIPAA Rules Regarding Text Messaging. Also, schedule a demo to see how to enhance your patient outreach through HIPAA-compliant text messaging.