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HIPAA Compliance Guide for Different Apps

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    Posted in Telemedicine

    Last Updated | September 30, 2021

    Video conferencing platforms have emerged as revolutionized technology tools during the Covid-19 pandemic; altering the ways we interact in our personal and professional lives. Out of the various uses of video conferencing software, healthcare services are definitely one aspect that hasn’t just supplemented the traditional healthcare industry overwhelmed by the pandemic, rather it has utterly changed the healthcare industry landscape forever.

    Today, video conferencing platforms are enabling digital healthcare professionals to continue their practice and keep in touch with their patients through live chat, cutting the necessity of clinical visits in this pandemic hit scenario. The remote access to healthcare services has also greatly improved the quality of healthcare services offered to patients, as they can now get instant access to the best doctors/physicians and consultants across the country without having to travel far and wide. These technological platforms are also great to help treat contagious diseases like Covid-19 and has been proven an effective approach to keep healthcare professionals safe from exposure of such contagious diseases.

    However, any video conferencing platform willing to be utilized in the healthcare industry, it’s important to get HIPAA compliance. HIPAA compliance ensures the safety and privacy features of the platform are robust enough to stop any breach of Protected Health Information (PHI).

    What Is HIPAA?

    Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act or HIPAA is a regulatory framework that is developed to protect the privacy of patients’ Protected Health Information (PHI). Since all relevant records including sensitive healthcare data are primarily stored in digital formats, hipaa compliant video conferencing software needs to ensure the protection of such Protected Health Information (PHI). HIPAA includes a regulatory framework that requires video conferencing software to integrate robust privacy and safety features for server security and user authentication to stop any breach of PHI.

    Generally, any entity that electronically stores and transfer Protected Health Information (PHI) is required to comply with the HIPAA guidelines. This means that video conferencing platforms aren’t the only platforms that require HIPAA compliance, rather many healthcare professionals like doctors, chiropractors, healthcare insurance providers, pharmacies, hospitals, and clinics also fall under the scope of HIPAA compliance.

    Requirements for HIPAA Compliant Video Conferencing

    When it comes to HIPAA compliance for video conferencing software, the ultimate bottom line is to ensure the sanctity and protection of PHI. All video conferencing platforms looking for potential application in the healthcare industry needs to ensure the confidentiality of patients’ personal and medical records. In this regard, we can broadly categorize HIPAA compliance requirements into two categories including; Privacy and Security Rules.

    The Privacy Rule

    The HIPAA Privacy Rules are meant to ensure confidentiality and sanctity of Patients’ personal and medical information. However, HIPAA privacy rules don’t stop hospitals and healthcare entities to share relevant data with other concerned organizations in a secure manner. In this regard, video conferencing is especially beneficial, as it enables healthcare practitioners across working in different geographical locations to get in touch and share relevant information to reach the right diagnosis.

    To put it simply, the HIPAA Privacy Rules permit healthcare practitioners and entities to share relevant medical information with authorized individuals; however, the information must be transmitted safely; private from everyone else. An important part of HIPAA Compliance to Privacy rules is the Notice of Privacy Practices, which obligates healthcare organizations to keep patients informed about the use of their personal or medical information.

    The Security Rule

    The HIPAA Security Rules obligates healthcare organizations to maintain a high level of security including the physical and technical safeguards to ensure the confidentiality of Protected Health Information (PHI). The bottom line of the HIPAA Security Rules is to ensure that all electronically transmitted patients’ information remains secure and confidential.

    The scope of the Security Rules is wide and covers various categories of digital information including the test results, x-ray images, electronic health records, pharmacy prescriptions, and others. This means that whether the healthcare practitioners want to access the lab tests through a mobile device or looking to continue his practice using video conferencing, HIPAA Security Rules need to be followed for all electronic access or transmission of PHI.

    Telemedicine Benefits

    Telemedicine comes with various benefits for healthcare practitioners, as well as, patients. The technology has greatly improved the quality of healthcare services for patients, while also reducing the cost of healthcare. For healthcare practitioners, technology has led to greater efficiency and more revenue by continuing their practice through remote communication.

    Here are some of the benefits of implementing telemedicine technology in the healthcare industry:

    Accessible Patient Care

    According to a recent survey by Cisco, nearly 75% of the patients responded positively to the convenience of using telemedicine as a more convenient healthcare platform, as compared to in-person interaction with doctors or physicians.

    In today’s digital world where all consumers are looking for more convenience, the healthcare industry is no exception as patients also look forwards to more accessible and convenient ways to access healthcare services.

    Telemedicine enables healthcare practitioners to offer their patients with flexible, on-demand, and simple access to expert consultation without wasting time and money involved with in-person visits. The technology is especially ideal for patients in remote locations or patients who are homebound or patients with a contagious disease to safely access required healthcare services through video conferencing from the comfort of their homes.

    Cost-Effective healthcare services

    Remote access to healthcare services for consultation, analysis, diagnosis, and monitoring services significantly reduces the cost of healthcare services for patients, as well as, for insurance companies. The technological platforms also cut out unnecessary costs of non-urgent emergency visits, while also eliminating costs of travel expenses.

    The American Hospital Association reported a more than 10% reduction in costs using telemedicine technology while tripling the ROIs for investors.

    Apart from cost-saving for patients, the technology also greatly improves the revenue for healthcare practitioners and investors by transforming on-call hours into billable time. Statistics have also shown that telemedicine technology greatly reduces the no-shows from patients and helps attracts new patients; thereby, improving the ROIs for healthcare practitioners.

    Increased Patient Engagement

    The self-realization of healthcare goals leads to improved health and reduced costs amongst patients. According to Ernst & Young Senior Advisory Manager, the higher cost of healthcare services leads to patients’ disengagement.

    In fact, the continuously rising cost of healthcare services in the United States have resulted in patients’ choosing not to seek healthcare services for any non-urgent or even non-lethal emergencies, which not only pose a serious risk towards patients but also hampers the revenue of hospitals, clinics, and healthcare insurance providers.

    By engaging patients with cost-effective and easily accessible telemedicine services, healthcare practitioners and institutions are able to reengage more patients and take targeted initiatives to curb tobacco use or obesity rates amongst the public.

    Is Dropbox HIPAA Compliant?

    While Dropbox is HIPAA compliant, it’s important for users to correctly configure the account. The Dropbox meets all compulsory HIPAA compliance regulations for all businesses that fall within the covered entity of the HIPAA.

    For instance, Dropbox is ready to sign the Business Associate Agreement (BAA) with HIPAA covered entities. The platform also enables businesses to follow HIPAA standards, where organizations can limit the access of PHI and track the use of PHI, thus protecting healthcare entities from violation of HIPAA regulations and subsequent legal problems with hefty fines.

    Remember, HIPPA violations may lead to very expensive fines. To give you an idea, one healthcare entity was slapped with a $3 million fine for losing the PHI, due to negligence on behalf of the organization to install robust encryption features on devices.

    So, using Dropbox, healthcare organizations can stay in compliance with the HIPAA regulations, while avoiding any legal or financial problems.

    Is Zoom HIPAA Compliant?

    A Business Associate Agreement (BAA) is required by HIPAA Privacy Rules, on behalf of any healthcare organization dealing with PHI. This is to ensure that the PHI is protected and safely transmitted electronically, only with the permitted individuals.

    In the case of Zoom (which is a third party Business Associate), the platform is willing to sign BAA with healthcare entities for its video conferencing platform, and thereby it’s HIPAA compliant software.

    The company has already launched the Zoom for telehealth, which is a separate cloud-based scalable entity specifically designed for the healthcare industry.

    Is Skype HIPAA compliant?

    Skype is a legendary platform that is also one of the first software that enabled individuals and businesses to conduct virtual meetings.

    However, the free version of the platform isn’t HIPAA compliance. However, Skype’s paid plans for Enterprises including E3 and E5 packages does come with HIPAA compliance with features like access controls, audit controls, automatic log-off, and encryption.

    However, it is important to note that Skype is developed by Microsoft, which has several Business Associate Agreements (BAAs), however not all of the BAAs cover Skype. In fact, even with BAA signed, the end-user has the ultimate responsibility to correctly configure the account for HIPAA compliant use of the platform.

    To sum up, only the E3 and E5 packages of Skype are HIPAA compliant, however, end-users have the responsibility for correct configuration and use of the platform.

    Is FaceTime HIPAA compliant? 

    FaceTime is developed by Apple, and since the company is not willing to sign BAA, thereby FaceTime isn’t HIPAA complaint – under normal circumstances.

    Is WhatsApp HIPAA compliant? 

    WhatsApp is not HIPAA compliant platforms and can’t be used for transmission of PHI. However, as a popular virtual communication platform, it can be used to communicate basic health information.

    Is Slack HIPAA compliant? 

    Slack maintains a separate segment; Slack Enterprise Grid, which is willing to sigh BAA from the users and thereby can be made HIPAA compliant. However, certain steps need to be taken on behalf of the end-users for complaint use of Slack Enterprise Grid and subsequent transmission of any PHI.

    While there are various communication apps that aren’t HIPAA compliant, various healthcare institutes are launching their own portals to streamline medical communication. The best thing about these custom communication portals is that the healthcare UX/UI is designed to meet the needs of healthcare providers, so everything is uniform.

    How Telemedicine Solutions Can Fight Covid-19

    Telemedicine solution has emerged as the leading alternative healthcare technology that not only supplemented the overwhelmed traditional healthcare industry but also revolutionized the legacy approaches in the healthcare industry. Below are some ways in which telemedicine has been fighting the battle alongside the traditional healthcare system against the Covid-19 pandemic:

    • enabling patients to get regular healthcare services without exposing themselves to the risk of contracting virus due to regular hospital visits
    • Enabling quarantined healthcare professionals to continue offering their services to patients through remote appointments; thereby, significantly reducing the strain on already overworked healthcare professionals leading the battle against the pandemic
    • Enable conservation of personal protective equipment (PPE) for doctors and hospital staff fighting the battles in the frontlines to treat COVID-19 patients.
    • Offer healthcare services to patients who are hesitant to visit hospitals and clinics due to various reasons, especially due to the higher cost of healthcare services.
    • Telemedicine software has opened up new flexible opportunities for healthcare professionals to improve the overall patient healthcare by offering them instant, remote access to qualified healthcare practitioners located far and wide in the country.

    What Cloud Services are HIPAA Compliant?

    • Dropbox Business
    • G Suite and Google Drive
    • Microsoft OneDrive and E5
    • Box Enterprise and Elite

    About the Author

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