Understanding the Importance of HIPAA-Compliant Texting

Dikran Seferian
Dikran SeferianContent Writer

Published: Feb 1, 2023

HIPAA Compliant Texting

In the world of healthcare, it’s needless to say that SMS goes hand-in-hand with HIPAA texting—especially when there’s sensitive health information involved. Some healthcare providers tend to communicate with their colleagues and patients via text messaging. It’s fast, simple, and convenient. But with the confidentiality of patient data in the picture, those messages need to follow the requirements set forth by the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act.

What Is HIPAA-Compliant Texting?

HIPAA-compliant text messaging is essentially how healthcare providers, insurance companies, and other entities that carry protected health information (PHI) share sensitive data in accordance with HIPAA rules and regulations. To ensure that your organization follows HIPAA messaging guidelines, there are a variety of apps and solutions you can choose from to maintain industry standards and protect the integrity of PHI.

HIPAA messages—such as SMS reminders for appointments or even mass texts for public health warnings—are normally encrypted on a secure server that carries the data locally. This keeps mobile phone networks from holding a copy.

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What Are the HIPAA Requirements for SMS Messaging?

Healthcare organizations often deal with the risk of critical information being compromised or misused by unauthorized individuals. Having said that, it’s crucial for practices to apply security controls and practice secure HIPAA messaging when it comes to digital PHI. This includes educating employees about HIPAA guidelines as well as the dangers of data breaches. Some of those main regulations include:

  • Organizations need to set procedures in regard to who can access patient health information and how they can use that information
  • It is required to run risk assessments on a periodic basis to detect and handle threats that can compromise the integrity of sensitive data
  • Those who use their own mobile devices must have encryption and data protection in place before accessing PHI
  • PHI should not be stored on mobile devices that belong to employees or subcontractors
  • Should a mobile device be lost, stolen, given away, or disposed of, all PHI stored on it should be deleted remotely to prevent a data breach
  • Organizations can share PHI with a patient as long as the patient is aware of the risks that come with unauthorized disclosure
  • Any software that contains PHI, including a secure SMS platform, should have a function that logs off after a specified period of idle time
  • PHI should only be accessible to those with a unique and trackable user ID name or number

The Importance of HIPAA-Compliant Messaging in Healthcare

There’s no denying the benefits of SMS messaging. However, it’s also important to be aware of the HIPAA violation risks that may be involved. Texting normally leaves a digital footprint for the messages that go around. This includes everything from day and time to context.

In the case of messages containing PHI, being HIPAA-compliant prevents data breaches and even identity theft. This only goes to show how critical it is to take HIPAA SMS measures.

Benefits of HIPAA-Compliant Text Messaging

Besides being mandatory, HIPAA compliance texting allows for a modern patient experience through secure, convenient, and real-time communication. There are numerous benefits to HIPAA compliance when it comes to SMS messaging.

Secure Information

By using HIPAA-compliant solutions to connect with your patients and associates, any piece of information you share will be transmitted and stored safely while meeting protocols.

No Violation Fees

Another consequence of not following HIPAA regulations is the hefty penalty you might end up paying. With HIPAA text messaging, you won’t have to worry about any violation fees.

Less Need for Phone Calls

Secure texting in healthcare can help reduce a significant amount of time on outgoing calls. This allows providers to allocate more time for incoming calls, directing patients to the care they need, and carrying out insurance verification. An SMS alert, for instance, is a much more convenient way to inform a patient that their test results are out.

Easier to Schedule Appointments

As people spend a considerable portion of their time on their phones, self-scheduling is becoming a more common option for making appointments. It’s a win-win situation, considering how convenient it can be for both parties involved. With SMS platforms, healthcare providers can even send automated HIPAA-compliant appointment reminders.

Integration With Internal Systems

With a smooth and secure flow of information going in and out of your practice management system, all patient data will be accessible on one platform.

Increased Patient Engagement

Thanks to its higher click-through rate, SMS messaging is proven to reign supreme over other modes of communication. This translates into higher patient engagement when it comes to two-way SMS messaging—especially when the patients know that their information is secure.

Best Practices for Using HIPAA-Compliant Secure Messaging

Legal guidelines can be intimidating, and you’ll need to be extra careful with patient information. However, sticking to a set of best practices often goes a long way towards being HIPAA-compliant.

Defining an Authorization Hierarchy

Knowing when, which, and for how long patients normally access their information helps in defining patterns you can attribute to authorized personnel. Audit controls are an excellent way to detect unauthorized access to sensitive information.

Getting Consent from Patients

Before initiating SMS patient communication, it’s always important to get their consent in formal writing. This document should let them know the kind of data they will be receiving and that it's their duty to prevent the information from reaching unauthorized individuals.

Making Sure the Devices Are Secure

Keeping professional messages separate from personal ones is crucial if you’re in the department of health. This means securing work-related messages that carry PHI with strong password authentication. The only way to access the messages should be via a HIPAA-compliant SMS messaging service.

Keeping PHI out of Screen Notifications

HIPAA-compliant text messaging apps will make sure to hide the text preview whenever an SMS that contains PHI is received; only the sender of the SMS will be visible. To view the contents of the message, the user would have to unlock their device via a pin, password, or face recognition.

Encrypting Messages in Transit and Storage

Besides encrypting your SMS messages that are in transit, secure SMS platforms will also encode any proprietary information you have on your device, including stored messages. This prevents data leakage should your phone ever go missing.

Enabling Two-Factor Authentication

A two-factor authentication service essentially enables you to verify a user’s identity and ensure they have the clearance to access sensitive data. Since passwords alone can be prone to security breaches, 2FA serves as an additional layer of protection. You can set a 2FA for new patients, confirming their phone numbers and email addresses.

Integrating Audits

Your healthcare practice will need to go through HIPAA audits in order to assess how PHI is handled across all systems and processes. A HIPAA-compliant SMS solution will automatically audit and log any administrator activity that has to do with users, protocols, passwordless authentication, and viewing message receipts.

Frequently Asked Questions About HIPAA Compliance in SMS Messaging

Is Text Messaging HIPAA-Compliant?

The short answer is no. But SMS messaging can be HIPAA-compliant by setting the right physical, technical, and administrative safeguards in place. This ensures the secure sharing and storage of patient health information, which should only be accessible to authorized individuals.

For SMS providers to be HIPAA-compliant, any messages that contain PHI need to have end-to-end encryption. Compromising the privacy and integrity of sensitive information may result in a patient taking legal action.

What Are Some HIPAA-Compliant Text Messaging Solutions?

Certain HIPAA-compliant SMS texting solutions have features that protect patient health information and block unauthorized access. These solutions include apps such as Spok, Halo Health, TigerConnect, and OhMD.

Can I Use Regular Text Messaging Apps for Healthcare Communication?

HIPAA allows healthcare professionals to communicate with each other and patients using regular messaging apps for Android and iOS. Be that as it may, there are certain requirements that users need to satisfy to protect the integrity and confidentiality of patient health information.

What Are the Penalties for Not Complying With HIPAA SMS Requirements?

The penalties for not complying with HIPAA messaging regulations largely depend on the level of negligence. They can range from $100 up to $50,000 for every individual violation. In certain cases, serious violations may result in a maximum penalty of $1.5 million or even lead to imprisonment.

How Do I Know if My Current SMS Messaging System Is HIPAA-Compliant?

A HIPAA-compliant messaging system will ideally have security measures in place such as two-factor authentication and end-to-end encryption. These ensure that only authorized users can have access to patient health information.