Oct 18, 2022

What hospital IT needs to know about HIPAA-compliant messaging apps

Today’s consumers demand greater convenience when communicating with businesses. The same is true for healthcare patients. Medical companies that deploy omnichannel communications for appointment scheduling, billing, and surveys via voice, text, and messaging apps can increase revenue, decrease operational costs, and improve patient satisfaction.

But, most SMS and MMS communications are not compliant with the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act (or HIPAA). (HIPAA Journal, 2022) Hospitals should be eager to reap the rewards of messaging, and IT departments must be careful to follow HIPAA rules and regulations to avoid costly penalties and ensure patient records are protected.

What are HIPAA-compliant messaging apps?

The security of a patient’s data is extremely important. Nevertheless, most SMS and social messaging services like Twitter, as well as emails, are not HIPAA compliant because they are not all encrypted and thus cannot be withdrawn if accidentally sent to the wrong recipient. Likewise, HIPAA-compliant messaging apps cannot be intercepted on public Wi-Fi networks. Yet many of these messages do not have the proper safeguards in place. (HIPAA Journal, 2022)

HIPAA concerns involving patient privacy

HIPAA enforces security and confidentiality across the healthcare field. A data breach or a small miscommunication. Not to mention the financial impact of paying fees if anything were to happen. Trust may be easy to gain as an established healthcare organization, but once broken, it can be extremely difficult to build back up.

Recently, Facebook’s parent company, Meta, and the hospitals and health systems leveraging its messaging and data tracking features came under fire. They were violating patients’ data privacy. Northwestern Memorial Hospital, for example, faces legal complaints, with patients claiming that Meta collected healthcare data via the hospital’s website. (Fierce Healthcare, 2022) Although the hospital disclosed the data tracker in its terms and conditions, this did not exempt them from patient rights protections outlined in state law.

In another class-action lawsuit against Facebook and Meta, a woman alleged that Meta collected her data through her hospital’s website and sold it to pharmaceutical companies. (HealthLeaders Media, 2022) These businesses targeted her particular medical conditions with advertisements.

Finding the best HIPAA messaging apps

In addition to the heightened awareness amongst patients about data misuse by large enterprises like Meta, there are growing concerns over data breaches. Though convenient, messaging apps are vulnerable to cyber-attacks, which saw a surge during the pandemic.

Moreover, the regulatory landscape continues to change as the demand for telehealth grows. While healthcare companies may want to use HIPAA-compliant messaging apps, it’s a challenge to figure out the safest solution.

“Do your due diligence and research potential apps. Look for messaging apps from a company that takes content privacy and security seriously. Does the app offer end-to-end encryption? Is it mining for content to resell? It’s hard to read the fine print before accepting an app download, but it’s worth it in the end. We need to take personal responsibility for the technology we choose and the way we engage with it.” – Frank Fawzi, CEO of IntelePeer (Forbes, 2022)

What steps healthcare can take for better communication

You may have already experienced a lot of these steps for better communication within healthcare. But being aware of them will help when setting up your communication automation workflows.

First, per our examples with Meta, cut out the mediator. Social media is a volatile world with communication policies and terms of use changing at a rapid pace. Not to mention, most social media messaging is not encrypted. Instead, focus on a more direct and personal channel like SMS, a healthcare-specific app, or email.

Second, when communicating with patients through email or text, provide a link to any actual information. Even though the message may be informal or generic, like “Click here to sign in and view your test results,” the information is behind a secure sign-in, and the patient knows they need to act.

Third, linking to a secure platform for the patient to sign in helps keep the patient’s data private and your organization compliant. By hiding what’s private, the patient knows that their information is accessible to them, yet secure.

IntelePeer’s messaging apps are HIPAA compliant and effective

IntelePeer’s cloud communications platform and messaging solution meet the stringent regulatory requirements of the most demanding enterprises like HIPAA. Our solutions help hospitals send HIPAA SMS messages, solving the pain points that can hamstring healthcare companies as they transition to digital experiences.

Knowledge is power.

Subscribe to the IntelePeer newsletter and you’ll receive monthly educational content on how to streamline communications and operations with customer service automation.