The increasing use of text messaging in health care has raised Health Information Portability and Accountability Act (HIPAA) compliance issues for physicians, opening up a new market for secure texting applications that comply with safety and privacy regulations.
Traditional SMS messaging does not comply with HIPAA regulations because the messages are unencrypted, have no expiration date, cannot be authenticated, and can be read or forwarded by anyone. Yet texting is a handy tool for healthcare organization, as it simplifies the laborious pager and callback system typically used in the industry.
“Physicians need a way to connect real-time to discuss patient care -- particularly for urgent cases -- without fear of falling out of compliance with the newer, stricter patient privacy regulations,” said Dr. Tracey Haas, co-founder of DocbookMD, a company that specializes in HIPAA-compliant communication. “Standard texting is not HIPAA-secure, which means physicians, their practices and affiliated hospitals, now run a very real risk of getting hit with sizable financial penalties for each infraction.”
The deadline to update HIPAA Materials to meet new, amended standards was September 23, 2013. Using traditional SMS text messaging carries a hefty cost. A single violation can result in a fine of $50,000; repeated violations can lead to $1.5 million in fines in a single year
However, options are available for health care professionals who prefer texting to communicate. The HIPAA Administrative Simplification Provisions established four major areas to determine compliance: secure data center storage, encryption, recipient authentication and audit controls.
As such, the industry has seen increasing interest in secure text messaging solutions. One such service, DocbookMD, is expanding its presence in the eastern United States to meet demand. The company’s mobile communication solution for smartphone and tablet devices is HIPAA compliant under the amended rules.
“We have over 21,000 physician users across 37 states and over 60 percent of all messages are opened within five minutes,” said Haas. “That we also help physicians avoid HIPAA violations is a bonus appreciated by all of our users.”
Edited by Blaise McNamee