By Lee Horner, CEO, Synzi.
Home health agencies need to be able to access and share PHI while they are on-the-go – often while using their smartphones or tablets. It’s critical that these types of communication are both fast and secure. However, many home health agencies allow staff to use text messaging when sharing patient data with each other, colleagues, or the patients themselves.
Text isn’t always best despite its popularity for convenient communications. Agencies might be more at risk than they think if staff members are texting each other information about patients. And, free consumer group messaging apps utilize vulnerable platforms which are unable to address health care-specific needs in terms of security and compliance.
An agency places itself and its patients at risk when sending ePHI via unencrypted text messaging. Traditional texting may not meet security or compliance requirements set forth under HIPAA. The HIPAA Journal indicates that the fine for a single breach of HIPAA can be anything up to $50,000 per day the vulnerability responsible for the breach is not attended to. Organizations which text in violation of HIPAA can also face civil charges from the patients whose data has been exposed if the breach results in identity theft or other fraud.
Immediacy, privacy and trust are key when communicating PHI among agency clinicians and the broader care team (e.g., the referring physician, a specialist, a pharmacist, etc.). For example, the patient or the field nurse can snap a picture of a patient’s wound and then send it securely to the wound care specialist for his/her recommendation. A wound care specialist can make a decision remotely – saving drive time and expenses – and immediately provide assistance to the field nurse.
Decision-making is accelerated, helping patients receive timely care and assistance. Staff productivity is optimized, helping the agencies better leverage specialists across a larger number of cases. ER visits and re-admissions are reduced, helping enhance patient satisfaction and outcomes.
With secure messaging functionality, home health staff members can easily and securely communicate and collaborate with colleagues, their patients and family caregivers, and with other care team members such as the referring physician or another specialist. HIPAA-compliant secure messaging is critical to securing ePHI in staff-to-staff and staff-to-patient communications.