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What Is Secure Messaging in Healthcare?

5 min read

Posted On August 26, 2021

Importance of secure messaging in healthcare

Secure messaging is an important HIPAA compliance concern for healthcare organizations. 

With the huge popularity of standard texting – some 2 trillion text messages are sent each year in the US – it’s easy to understand why working healthcare professionals want to use a messaging solution to communicate with each other and with patients. 

The use of mobile devices allows healthcare workers to exchange patient information in real time, which improves workflows, patient care and ultimately patient outcomes. Unfortunately, however, using unsecured communication platforms – such as standard SMS, iMessage and WhatsApp – to send and receive sensitive information violates HIPAA regulations. 

The HIPAA Security Rule mandates that healthcare organizations put appropriate technical, physical and administrative safeguards in place to ensure patient information is kept safe and confidential at all times.

This means that secure text messaging practices must be followed. In practice, this means a secure communications solution must have encryption, access controls and audit controls in order to be HIPAA compliant. The fact of the matter is, however, that most standard messaging solutions lack these necessary mechanisms. 

So – is there a solution?

DOWNLOAD YOUR FREE HIPAA COMPLIANT  COMMUNICATIONS CHECKLIST

Secure Messaging Apps

The primary reason why standard SMS messaging apps cannot be used in a HIPAA compliant fashion is because they allow for unsecured access to protected health information (PHI). Unencrypted text messages can be easily intercepted by malicious actors over unsecure networks. Additionally, messages can be freely accessed on a lost, stolen, or simply unattended mobile device. 

Research from the HIPAA Journal reveals that HIPAA covered entities and their business associates have got better at protecting PHI from loss or theft incidents over recent years. However, it notes that unencrypted devices are “still being left unsecured in vehicles and locations accessible by the public” – contributing to the 50 or so loss/theft incidents that continue to occur each year.  

graph showing rate of hacking on US healthcare data

(Image source: hipaajournal.com)

Part of the reason the number of such incidences have declined in recent times likely comes down to the fact that purpose-built secure text messaging healthcare solutions are now available. 

Using secure messaging apps for healthcare communications, medical professionals can reap the benefits of sending and receiving PHI using mobile devices while keeping data secure and maintaining compliance with HIPAA. 

Dedicated healthcare text messaging apps have all the functionality of familiar texting apps like Messenger and WhatsApp, yet come with encryption, access controls and audit controls, enabling secure messaging in healthcare.

DOWNLOAD YOUR FREE HIPAA COMPLIANT  COMMUNICATIONS CHECKLIST

The Benefits of HIPAA Compliant Instant Messaging

With hundreds if not thousands of patients to serve, an efficient communications strategy is imperative. Healthcare is a complex environment in which many people – from doctors and nurses to therapists, radiologists, imaging technicians, lab technicians and insurance providers – must be able to communicate quickly and seamlessly. 

A HIPAA compliant instant messaging solution enables healthcare organizations to communicate efficiently while maintaining their patients’ privacy when transmitting PHI. Secure texting with patients becomes possible, enabling healthcare organizations to provide remote care, share test results and automate appointment reminders.  

Some other benefits of HIPAA compliant texting for medical professionals include: 

  • Cost-efficiency: A HIPAA compliant secure messaging app can be downloaded straight onto employees’ phones, meaning they can use their own devices (rather than company devices that you will have to pay for) to communicate with patients and each other. 
  • Increase productivity: The ability to share patient information easily and efficiently using one’s own device enhances productivity. The best secure messaging solutions today allow doctors, nurses, administrative staff and other personnel to share sensitive information like health charts, prescriptions, X-rays and more. 

Full compliance: With full encryption both at rest and in transit, access controls, multi-factor authentication, audit controls, automatic logoffs and the ability to remotely delete PHI from a user’s device if it’s lost or stolen, full compliance with HIPAA can be ensured. This means healthcare organizations can avoid fine for infringements, which can be up to $50,000 for a single violation and up to $1.5 million a year for repeated violations.

infographic detailing penalty structures HIPAA violations

(Image source: hipaajournal.com)

HIPAA Compliant Texting and File Sharing with Central Data Storage

HIPAA compliant texting for medical professionals is only possible with a purpose-built solution. Standard SMS texting is not HIPAA compliant and, even though it facilitates end-to-end encryption, WhatsApp is not HIPAA compliant either since it lacks access and audit controls. 

At Central Data Storage, we provide one of the best HIPAA compliant text messaging apps with encrypted file sharing available. Our solutions are trusted by hundreds healthcare professionals around the country every single day. 

As well as text messages, the CDS solution also encrypts email communications and any files attached to those communications. We sign business associate agreements (BAAs) with all of our clients and are approved by third-party auditors as 100% compliant with HIPAA, as well as HITECH, GDPR and State Laws. 

In addition, more than simply being a software provider, we work hand in hand with you to help you establish a robust HIPAA text messaging and file sharing policy that’s fully compliant with the HIPAA Security Rule. 

To get you started on your journey, download our free Encrypted Sharing Checklist. For more information, call 1-888-907-1227 or email info@centraldatastorage.com today. 

HIPAA COMPLIANT CHECKLIST