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Are Messaging Apps Safe for HIPAA Compliant File Sharing?

4 min read

Posted On February 23, 2021

HIPAA-compliant-file-sharing

Is HIPAA compliant file sharing possible with text messaging apps? It’s an important question. 

23 billion text messages are sent each day worldwide – 6 billion of which are in the US. So convenient is the technology – and ubiquitous the smartphone – it’s no wonder an increasing number of healthcare professionals turn to text messages to communicate with patients. 

The question is – should they be doing so? 

Text messages are not encrypted. This is a problem when it comes to complying with the HIPAA Security Rule, which all healthcare practitioners must abide by. 

While HIPAA doesn’t explicitly ban the texting of protected health information (PHI), the Security Rule is clear enough – the appropriate safeguards must be in place to ensure patient data is kept safe and confidential while it’s at rest and in transit. 

In addition, there must be adequate information security controls in place for who can access PHI, as well as policies and procedures surrounding what authorized personnel can do with PHI once they have access to it. 

This creates a lot of red tape for electronic communication in HIPAA controlled environments in general – and makes text messaging particularly high-risk.

The Problem of HIPAA Compliance with Consumer-Grade Text Messaging Apps

Most of the everyday texting apps people use to send and receive text messages aren’t secure. 

There are no access controls, there are no audit controls and they lack encryption. 

True, encryption is an “addressable” stipulation of the HIPAA Security Rule (as opposed to a “required” one). 

However, without encryption, the contents of any message that is intercepted in transit or on the mobile device itself can be used by criminals to commit identity theft and other types of fraud. 

As such, encryption is the only feasible way to ensure secure text messaging. 

Mobile phones are easily lost or stolen. 

Without adequate encryption and access controls, anybody can pick up a smartphone and read the text messages on it. 

In addition, HIPAA states that audit controls must be in place to record not only when PHI is created, but when it is accessed, shared, modified or deleted. 

Unfortunately, standard text messaging apps simply don’t provide these types of access or audit controls – which is why it is simply unacceptable for professionals at healthcare organizations to use them for transmitting PHI. 

There is, however, a solution. 

HIPAA Compliant Text Messaging Apps

Today, healthcare professionals can enjoy the speed and convenience of text messaging important information and PHI between colleagues and patients without having to worry about HIPAA violations. 

The solution is specialist, purpose-built HIPAA compliant instant messaging apps. 

On the surface and from a usability standpoint, a HIPAA compliant messaging app works in the same way as regular, commercial instant messaging apps like WhatsApp and Facebook Messenger. 

In the background, however, they run on a highly-secure encrypted network – complete with access and audit controls – meaning healthcare organizations can use them in full compliance with the HIPAA Security Rule. 

HIPAA compliant file sharing is made possible with these apps because all communications are stored securely on a private cloud away from other data. 

Audit reports can be easily extracted remotely from mobile devices and messages can be retracted or deleted if the device is lost or stolen. 

Managers and administrators can control the apps via user-friendly admin control panels – applying the necessary messaging policies and role-based permissions to users. 

In addition, the best HIPAA compliant text messaging apps on the market today also enable HIPAA compliant voice and video calls as well as group chat. 

In this way, HIPAA compliant text messaging apps are the perfect solution for HIPAA compliant communication. 

This unleashes a host of benefits for patients and physicians alike.

Patients can send messages to their healthcare provider easily – for medical advice, opinions, or healthcare updates – safe in the knowledge that their data is secure. 

They can also receive notifications from hospitals and clinics, reminders for appointments and even precautionary messages. 

For healthcare professionals, the ability to use a text messaging app to communicate with patients and maintain HIPAA compliance is the ultimate in convenience.

Any piece of information relating to patient health is subject to HIPAA guidelines – so secure data sharing is essential. 

Mobile data sharing is convenient because it’s accessible on-the-go. 

Not only is communicating with patients familiar and simple, but remote care options are also enabled, improving efficiency. 

Patients and physicians can share appointment details and even test results via voice, video or text – all while their data is protected in full compliance with HIPAA guidelines. 

HIPAA Text Messaging Policy

A HIPAA Text Messaging Policy is a document that informs employees the circumstances under which it's okay to send Protected Health Information (PHI) by HIPAA Compliant Instant Messaging Apps. This document should be compiled only when a risk assessment has been conducted to identify risks to the integrity of PHI and its possible unauthorized disclosure.

Is WhatsApp HIPAA Compliant?

WhatsApp, which is not HIPAA compliant, can't be used to transmit PHI. This is because there are no safeguards in place to protect sensitive information from being intercepted.

HIPAA Compliant Encrypted Sharing App from Central Data Storage

Finding the right encrypted messaging solution is essential to keep your patients’ data safe and avoid HIPAA violations. 

At Central Data Storage, our cloud storage and encrypted file sharing mobile and desktop apps are trusted by hundreds of healthcare professionals around the country. 

With beyond military grade encryption and an intuitive, user-friendly interface, our HIPAA compliant file sharing solutions provide the greatest protection and experience for your staff and patients. 

Start your HIPAA compliant file sharing free trial today. Call 1-888-907-1227 or email info@centraldatastorage.com to learn more about our leading-edge solutions.  

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