Can you guarantee that you’re using a HIPAA compliant phone implementation? If not, what will it take to get there? Whether you use your VOIP phone to text, fax or manage on-call scheduling, it’s vital to rethink your approach to advanced data systems.
The Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act, or HIPAA, imposes a number of critical burdens on modern caregivers. From general practitioners to behavioral therapists and nutritionists, these professionals bear an increased responsibility to protect their patients — and the unique data that defines them.
VoIP phones serve as powerful tools for those seeking to fulfill their caregiving missions. Still, this merger of classic communication technology with modern IT architectures poses tough questions.
Why Are VoIP Phones so Necessary to Modern Practitioners?
Simply put, VoIP systems are vital for practices that want to stay competitive. As of 2017, more than 70 percent of providers used telemedicine and telehealth tools to interact with patients. Adoption rates are particularly high in underserved and remote areas. However, most practices still engage patients predominately by phone calls.
Whether such effects prove beneficial or detrimental might depend on the way practitioners adopt new technologies. For instance, IT networks make it far easier to connect with patients, but they’re not all the same. Faulty deployments can introduce everything from communications lag to serious security concerns.
The use of VoIP systems is on the rise in medicine, and it’s no small wonder. After all, using the right solution can improve patient care. By incorporating comprehensive security technology and quality analysis frameworks that contribute to effective governance, they empower practitioners to focus on their patients.
What Makes a HIPAA Compliant Phone Implementation?
Not every VoIP system meets the high standards of HIPAA compliance. Want more insights on whether yours makes the grade? Start by looking at what the law has to say about some typical usage cases:
Taking Patient Calls
Fielding calls from patients and their proxies is a vital part of a doctor’s work. The problem is that these conversations invariably cover information protected under the HIPAA privacy rule. For instance, you might discuss details about conditions, personally identifying data and other protected health information, or PHI.
VoIP systems often record calls for other purposes, such as outcome review or transcription. This practice introduces the possibility that your enterprise might violate the privacy regulation. Since it isn’t always feasible to de-identify or anonymize, such data, your HIPAA compliant phone frameworks must:
- Store information using secure network architectures,
- Implement monitoring that aids tasks like detecting breaches, and
- Institute reasonable server access controls to minimize the chances that bad actors might compromise privacy.
Transferring Data to Electronic Health Records
Electronic health record, or EHR, systems come in many flavors. Most serve similar purposes, such as making health data more accessible and useful. At the same time, they raise unique concerns for the doctor phone app users that work with them.
The HIPAA security rule demands that covered entities protect data not only when they store it but also during transmission. Although the law admits exceptions for conduits or organizations that merely facilitate data transmission, this only applies to services that store PHI temporarily.
For instance, VoIP fax services inherently store document data on embedded devices and in system memory or in the cloud. This critical distinction means that they need to live up to the higher standards imposed on HIPAA business associates.
Sharing Information with Other Practitioners, Insurers and Public Agencies
Other forms of data transfer also demand systems that enable comprehensive governance. For instance, covered entities commonly use the information gleaned from doctor-patient communications to prove meaningful use of their EHR technology. VoIP systems are a natural fit for such tasks because they eliminate many of the traditional barriers to follow-ups and outcome reporting.
The PHI data these tools produce may need sanitization and analysis before it can be utilized effectively. As such, it’s critical that HIPAA compliant phone implementations:
- Employ industry-accepted transmission standards,
- Feature strong encryption, and
- Include auditing tools for end-to-end data access oversight.
Routing Communications to On-call Doctors and Patients
VoIP systems are also useful replacements for the modern conveniences that facilitate connected patient care. One of the most noteworthy — and potentially bewildering — examples involve text messaging. Much confusion has arisen regarding the legality of text messaging patients and on-call doctors. Although most observers have concluded that the practice is technically acceptable, there are many caveats.
HIPAA compliant phone services make it easier to jump through the inevitable hoops without tripping. Unlike standard consumer-oriented alternatives, they include controls that let you text while:
- Limiting the spread of PHI to necessary authorized users,
- Monitoring message access,
- Implementing centralized identity verification systems,
- Storing communications in a way that precludes data being illegally modified or deleted, and
- Intelligently encrypting information prior to sending it beyond controlled domains, such as those defined by your network’s firewall.
Moving Towards a Brighter Future of VoIP-enabled Patient Care and Service
Your phone system is just one of the many tools your practice uses to serve its patients. Does it fall short of these basic standards? Can you even tell at a glance?
From electronic health records to practice management systems, the right VoIP solution enhances the assets that power stellar services. Want to learn more about staying on the right side of the law with a system built from the ground up for HIPAA compliance? Reach out to a RingRx specialist to explore the options.