Texting and E-mailing with Patients: Complying with HIPAA Guidelines

Event Information
Product Format
Prerecorded Event
60 minutes
Product Description

Integrating E-Mail and Texting in Healthcare Communications: Requirements, Risks, and Issues

Communications in healthcare is an increasingly complex issue. The use of texting and e-mail is an issue of current interest as staff begins to adopt the technologies they are already used to, for use in the healthcare setting. E-mail has long been a staple of people’s lives, but as we move into the new digital age, texting is often the preferred, or sometimes the best way of communicating.  Doctors and medical offices are finding that texting is far more flexible, convenient, and effective than paging, and patients want to be able to use short message texting for handling of appointments, updates, and the like, where even e-mail or the telephone would seem inconvenient. Communicating with patients’ cell phones via texting or voice call for purposes of payment and even for providing healthcare information requires consent, and using texting for official purposes still remains outside the bounds of physician orders. These issues must be considered when evaluating the use of texting and e-mail for all kinds of communications.

Proper evaluation and management of risks is also on the hot list for audits and enforcement, which includes considering communications appropriately for business purposes that may or may not contain protected health information (PHI). The stakes are high – any improper exposure of PHI against the rules may result in an official breach that must be reported to the individual and to the US Department of Health and Human Services (HHS), at great cost and with the potential to bring fines and other enforcement actions if a violation of rules is involved. Violations are subject to enforcement that can include fines up to $50,000 per day and more, and years-long corrective action plans that can cost many times the financial settlement with HHS. Enforcement is no longer a slap-on-the-wrist; violations do bring significant penalties today.

In addition to HIPAA, there are impacts of the Telephone Consumer Protection Act (TCPA) that limit the use of cell phones for payment and healthcare purposes unless consent is obtained, and there have been recent actions by the Joint Commission for the Accreditation of Healthcare Organizations (JCAHO) to approve and then withdraw approval of using secure texting for physician orders.

There has long been a HIPAA requirement for covered entities to do their best to meet the requests of their patients for particular modes of communication, and using e-mail or texting is no exception. As HIPAA requirements for allowing patients electronic access to their health information are now in effect, and as patients increasingly come to depend on electronic communications, there are new demands for communication via e-mail and texting. With the advent of these new technologies and increased desires to use e-mail and texting, and with increases in audits and enforcement actions following breaches, now is the time to ensure your organization is in compliance with the regulations while also meeting the e-mail and texting communication needs and desires of its providers, staff, and patients. How can HIPAA requirements for privacy and security be reconciled with patient requests for information provided by e-mail and text messages?

Join this session with expert speaker Jim Sheldon-Dean, who will discuss the requirements, risks, and issues of the increasing use of e-mail and texting for healthcare communications and will provide a road map for how to use them safely and effectively, to increase the quality of health care and patient satisfaction. In addition, the session will discuss how to be prepared for the eventuality that there is a breach, so that compliance can be assured. Jim will discuss the differences between professional communications and patient communications, and how they must be treated to best serve patients, most efficiently enable communications, and remain within the bounds of HIPAA compliance.

In order to integrate the use of e-mail and texting into your communications, it is essential to perform the proper steps in an information security compliance process to evaluate and address the risks of using the technology. The session will describe the information security compliance process, how it works, and how it can help you decide how to integrate e-mail and texting into your organization in a compliant way. Jim will explain the process, including the use of information security risk analysis, and the policies needed to support the process. You need the proper privacy protections for health information, including documented policies and procedures on which your staff has been trained, as well as documentation of any actions taken pursuant to those policies and procedures.

Session Highlights

  • The ways providers want to use e-mail and texting to enable better patient care
  • The risks of using e-mail and texting, what can go wrong, and what can result when it does
  • HIPAA requirements for access and patient preferences, as well as the requirements to protect PHI
  • How to use an information security management process to evaluate risks and make decisions about how best to protect PHI and meet patient needs and desires
  • Limitations on the use of messages and calls to cell phones under TCPA
  • How JCAHO decided to allow and then withdraw allowing the use of texting for physician orders
  • The policies and procedures you should have in place for dealing with e-mail and texting, as well as any new technology
  • The training and education that must take place to ensure your staff uses e-mail and texting properly and does not risk exposure of PHI
  • The steps that must be followed in the event of a breach of PHI
  • How the HIPAA audit and enforcement activities are now being increased and what you need to do to survive a HIPAA audit

Session Agenda

  • How texting has affected our lives and made email communication obsolete
  • Review of the different kinds of communication
  • An overview of the privacy rule, security rule and breach notification rule
  • Risk analysis of email and texting
  • Encryption is required when PHI is involved, except when the patients request to use an insecure process
  • Issues related to portable devices regarding authentication and access controls
  • Patient rights on confidential communication requirements and provision of access
  • Individual access of PHI and the 2016 HIPAA audit program
  • How important is getting the consent to call a provided number
  • Patient communication policies
  • An overview of the information security management process
  • Who to do in case of a breach
  • Tiered penalty structure

Who Should Attend

  • Compliance manager
  • HIPAA privacy officer
  • HIPAA security officer
  • CEO
  • Office manager
  • HR director
  • Privacy officer
  • CIO
  • Records release manager
  • HIM manager
  • Counsel

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About Our Speaker

Jim Sheldon Dean - HIPAA Compliance & Regulations Expert

Jim Sheldon-Dean is a healthcare compliance and HIPAA expert in the areas of privacy and security regulatory compliance and business process analysis. He is the founder and director of compliance services at Lewis Creek Systems, LLC, a Vermont-based consulting firm founded in 1982, providing information privacy and security regulatory compliance services to a wide variety of healthcare entities. Jim is a frequent speaker regarding HIPAA...   More Info
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