Covid-19 and Telehealth – A Guide to Healthcare Compliance During COVID-19

Last Updated | February 17, 2021

The onslaught of Covid-19 has transformed life as we know it. The global pandemic adversely impacts every aspect of human life. The Healthcare sector is undoubtedly one of the worst-hit areas, which continues to remain overwhelmed with an unprecedented number of patients. The palpable stress on the healthcare system due to covid-19 wasn’t just felt in the developing countries, rather the healthcare system of most of the developed nations including the USA tanked due to millions and millions of patients requiring emergency healthcare services.

While Covid-19 does adversely impacted the healthcare sector, the pandemic, in reality, brings to attention some of the laggings of the sector and a need to revamp healthcare compliance services with the modern-day need. The need for fast and reliable communication between healthcare professionals and patients is also one important area where the healthcare sector lagged greatly.

Given the technological advances, the difficulty in the healthcare sector to remotely connect healthcare professionals to the patients may seem a bit odd, however, it only represents the lagging of the sector. The public today is increasingly looking for faster and instant communication access through text messages or apps-based communication services. According to one study, 90% of the people responded positively to communicate with healthcare professionals through secure messaging services. Moreover, the contagious nature of Covid-19 only further raises the demand for remote healthcare services. Remote healthcare compliance services not only enable healthcare providers to instantly communicate and deliver crucial emergency services but also reduce the chances of transmitting the virus.

Healthcare compliance during COVID-19

The Healthcare Insurance Portability and Accountability Act (HIPAA) was established in 1996. The act was meant to offer robust privacy standards for the protection of patients’ medical records. Since the use of remote healthcare service platforms increased significantly during the covid-19, it also brings compliance to HIPAA standards into the area of focus. Back in the day, any breach/sharing of patients’ medical records may lead to significant penalties and fines for the healthcare service. According to HIPAA standards, all Protected Health Information (PHI) needs to be protected from breaching or sharing at all costs.

However, since the outbreak of the pandemic, the rules of healthcare compliance services have changed dramatically. The growing need to share medical data between healthcare service providers lead government authorities to ease healthcare compliance during Covid-19, especially for telehealth services.

One major shift in healthcare compliance during covid-19 comes with the easing of compliance standards for PHI data sharing announced by the Department of Health and Human Services’ Office for Civil Rights (OCR). According to the announcement the agency won’t be imposing penalties against non-compliance to HIPAA standards for covered healthcare providers using telehealth platforms. This marks a significant and much-required change in the healthcare compliance regulations since healthcare practitioners more than ever need to access as much data as possible in their fight against the global pandemic.

However, while the healthcare compliance services have been eased up for telehealth services, OCR still urges healthcare practitioners to only use secure telehealth platforms with robust security features to secure PHI. Using a trusted telehealth platform that complies with HIPAA standards is important because the use of a third-party platform only adds to the security threats of PHI. Moreover, since healthcare facilities are overwhelmed by the ever-increasing number of patients, there is a greater chance for negligence towards PHI data protection, which may lead to a breach of PHI data.

Healthcare compliance services – Covid-19 Clinician-Patient SMS Checklist

Cloud-based communication solutions provide hospitals and clinics a great platform to get instant access to patients, or caregivers using their personal devices. These platforms can be crucial in life and death situations, whereby, patients’ caregivers can get immediate access to qualified healthcare services without compromising the patient’s privacy.

Again, the key to healthcare compliance and covid-19 medical treatment services is to look out for a secure cloud-based platform, which complies with HIPAA standards. Platforms offering the “Opt-In/Opt-Out” feature for patients are great to be used as remote healthcare tools. Such platforms offer an explicit HIPAA consent message before the conversation begins; thereby giving Opt-In or Opt-out options to patients. The message ensures patients of compliance to HIPAA standards that they can securely communicate with the healthcare practitioner without compromising on the PHI.

Other healthcare compliance during covid-19 features to consider includes a navigable administration portal. This portal may be used by IT teams to manage the communication between healthcare providers and patients. Also, the administrative portal may be used to integrate essential healthcare service tools with the communication platform.

Planning for the Long Term

It has been over a year since the covid-19 first breakout in China, and with no end in sight, it is easy for people to take the new healthcare compliance services as an alternate reality. However, there is light at the end of the tunnel, and that while the pandemic is still very much present in its full form, the healthcare industry has quickly reinforced its services to meet the new challenges. The introduction of vaccines is an important milestone in this regard, which gives rather strong hope to the world to defeat this global pandemic.

This also means that healthcare services need to be prepared for the end of relaxations offered for healthcare compliance during covid-19. This means that it’s important for the hospitals and clinics to architect future communication strategies for the long term.

Some of the important components of a mobile communication strategy that needs special attention includes;

  • Patients’ data protection policies
  • Acceptable use policies
  • Security controls on devices
  • Documentation and archiving requirements
  • Patients’ responsiveness policies

Conclusion

While the adverse impacts of covid-19 were profound across all aspects of human lives, the healthcare sector was one of the worst-hit areas. And while healthcare professionals stood guard as the first line of defense against the pandemic, they were caught unprepared.

The relaxations on healthcare compliance services during covid-19 were just one way to ease up pressure from the healthcare sector and give respiring space to the healthcare practitioners in their battle to defeat covid-19. However, as we inch ever closer to win this battle, it’s important to revamp the healthcare sector according to modern-day needs and equip it with the necessary tools/technology required to stay prepared for another health emergency that may arise in the future.