What Is HIPAA Compliant Communication And How To Ensure It For Your Organization?
Communication in the healthcare industry was never easy. No matter where you go, healthcare data is always protected by multiple rules and regulations. And as an organization working in or with the healthcare industry, you have no option but to obey these standards.
One of the standards that healthcare organizations and insurance providers should be extra careful about is HIPAA-compliant communication. Compromising your communication standards and not ensuring HIPAA compliance could lead to legal problems and hefty fines
Here we explain all the vital details you need to ensure HIPAA communication for your organization.
What is HIPAA Compliant Communication?
Understanding HIPAA compliant communication is much simpler once you learn the HIPAA rule. HIPAA, or the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act, is a federal statute created to safeguard individuals’ Protected Health Information (PHI).
To put things in Layman’s terms, HIPAA is a rule that protects individuals’ health information that could reveal the patient’s identity. HIPAA specifies
- Information protected under HIPAA
- Entities that come under HIPAA regulations
- Safeguards required for protecting PHI
As you can guess, HIPAA compliant communication involves securing communications per HIPAA standards to secure access, disclosure, and transfer of PHI. HIPAA applies to all covered entities and business associates dealing with PHI.
Covered Entities and Business Associates
Before we go any further, you must understand the definition of covered entities and business associates under the HIPAA rule. The HIPAA rule primarily aims for covered entities, which include
- Healthcare providers like hospitals, clinics, doctors, etc.
- Healthcare plans like health insurance companies, HMOs, and company health plans
- Healthcare clearinghouses standardize healthcare information
So, suppose your organization belongs to any of the three abovementioned groups. In that case, you must ensure HIPAA compliant communication for your company. But that’s not all. Sometimes Covered entities like hospitals and insurance companies outsource their communication to specialized service providers.
For example, most healthcare providers use services like PostGrid for healthcare to streamline their postal mail communication. It allows healthcare providers to secure patient communication in healthcare for important PHI documents, such as
- Explanation of Benefits (EOB)
- Explanation of Coverage (EOC)
- Patient billing statements
- Patient letters and notices
- Hospital and lab invoices
Organizations such as PostGrid that undertake the access, disclosure, or transfer of PHI for covered entities are called business associates under HIPAA.
HIPAA Compliant Patient Communication
Above, we mentioned that the HIPAA rule is put in place to protect the patient’s identity. Considering this point, some may assume that HIPAA compliance does not matter if the communication is with the patient.
They may think it should be okay to communicate PHI data with the patient because they are already aware of it. Nonetheless, you still need to ensure HIPAA compliant patient communication as long as it involves PHI.
As a covered entity, you need to be mindful of two things regarding patient communication in healthcare.
- The information you want to communicate
- The HIPAA compliant communication platform you use
Suppose the information you want to communicate to the patient includes a PHI that can reveal the patient’s identity. In that case, you need a HIPAA-compliant communication channel. But, if you want to send the basic appointment details without any PHI data, you don’t need to worry about HIPAA compliance.
Which HIPAA Compliant Communication Platform Is Best For Your Business?
The HIPAA compliant communication platform you choose for your healthcare organization can significantly impact your communications. Many healthcare organizations use multiple communication channels to ensure their patients do not miss critical information.
For example, lab reports, patient billing statements & invoices, etc., are sent via mail and email. Using multiple channels ensures efficient patient communication in healthcare. In addition, you can use communication channels like postal mail to require a signature from the recipients.
Following are the primary communication channels you can use to ensure HIPAA compliant communication for your organization.
- Phone Calls
- Text Messages
- In-Person Communication
- And more
Mail For HIPAA Compliant Communication
If you consider patient communication in healthcare, most people still prefer using an offline communication channel like mail. One reason could be that people are aware of how easily they miss an email or text message.
Here is how you can ensure HIPAA-compliant communication via postal mail
Get a Signature From The Recipient
Suppose you want to use postal mail for patient communication in healthcare. In that case, you must ensure you get a signature from the recipient. It is one of the safeguards that protect the PHI. In other words, you can’t use a standard postal delivery for your healthcare communication involving PHI.
Employ a HIPAA Compliant Direct Mail Service Provider
Most covered entities, including hospitals and insurance providers, use a business associate like PostGrid for their communications. It allows your organization to save valuable time and money without compromising your HIPPA compliant communication.
An advanced HIPAA compliant communication platform like PostGrid has full automation capabilities. You can easily print and deliver personalized healthcare communications via direct mail. Furthermore, the automated system can efficiently deliver your organization’s bulk mail requirements without glitches or lag.
Employ An Address Verification Tool
Another way to ensure secure patient communication in healthcare is to employ an address verification tool. Several direct mail service providers like PostGrid offer their address verification tools. PostGrid’s address checker comes with SERP and CASS certifications and all the direct mail compliances.
PostGrid’s address verification tool lets you validate the address data of your patients using the official postal address databases. If that’s not enough, PostGrid offers address verification for international addresses. Therefore, it doesn’t matter whether your patients are from Canada or outside the country PostGrid can validate their addresses.
Streamlining patient communication in healthcare is not the only use of an address checker. Covered Entities, including healthcare providers and insurance providers, can use address verification for various business operations. The following table shows some additional applications of address verification tools.
|Healthcare Providers (Hospitals, clinics, etc.)||Healthcare Insurance Providers|
Email For HIPAA Compliant Communication
Before you send any PHI data to your patients, get a written authorization from them. However, getting permission alone doesn’t ensure HIPAA compliant patient communication for your organization.
Here is how you can ensure HIPAA-compliant communication via email.
Ensure End-To-End Encryption or E2EE
You can ensure HIPAA communication for your organization via email by using end-to-end encryption. Every email you send must pass through a third-party server, offering vulnerable points hackers can use to obtain PHI.
The end-to-end encryption protects your PHI even as they pass through the third-party servers. However, it is worth noting that you can’t save the email’s subject line using encryption. Hence, you must ensure that the subject line does not contain PHI to ensure HIPAA compliant communication.
Phone Calls For HIPAA Compliant Communication
If the patient willingly gives you their contact number, you can make PHI-related calls to them. However, the patient can opt-out of these calls anytime they want. If the patient withdraws the permission, you may need to get a written authorization to resume HIPAA communication with them.
Most organizations only prefer phone calls in healthcare communications for some select situations, such as
- Test results
- Appointment reminders
- Post-discharge follow-ups
- Pre-op instructions
Here is how you can ensure HIPAA-compliant communication via phone calls.
Ensure Security Precautions
Implementing security precautions for your healthcare phone calls is challenging because there are few options available. However, you can take some basic security precautions to maintain HIPAA-compliant patient communication in healthcare.
- Request For Patient’s Name and Identifying Information:
- An easy way to ensure secure HIPAA compliant communication via phone calls is to ask the patient for their name and two pieces of identifying information
- Explain Who You Are and The Purpose Of Your Call
- The patient may be reluctant to provide the requested information without knowing who you are. Hence, you must first explain who you are and the purpose of your call if you don’t want them to think it’s a fake/fraud call
Text Messages For HIPAA Compliant Communication
Text messages are an ideal option in healthcare communication for conveying the minimum necessary information. Using texts as your primary communication platform is not ideal because traditional text messaging is unsuitable for HIPAA compliant communication.
However, that does not mean healthcare communication via text messaging is impossible. Here is how you can ensure HIPAA-compliant communication via text messaging.
Use Specialized Healthcare Texting Platforms
Today, specialized healthcare texting platforms guarantee HIPAA compliant patient communication for your business. However, these platforms are not yet widespread, and you may have to make your patients download healthcare texting applications.
In-Person Interactions For HIPAA Compliant Communication
The safest way to ensure HIPAA communication for your organization is through face-to-face interactions. However, that does not mean that in-person interactions are entirely free from the threat of data leaks. Here is how you can ensure HIPAA-compliant communication via face-to-face communication.
Safeguarding From Eavesdroppers
People overhearing your interaction or PHI data is one of the biggest concerns in face-to-face healthcare communication. So, to ensure HIPAA compliant patient communication, you must use a private or secure space when discussing PHI.
Take Care of Recording Devices
Suppose you have a recording device when you communicate PHI data with the patient. In that case, you must inform the patient about the recording device and get their explicit consent.
Ensuring HIPAA compliant communication for an organization can seem extremely challenging to the uninitiated. But with the right resources, you can conveniently provide the security of PHI for your business communication.
You must invest your time in finding the best business associates to streamline your healthcare communication. For example, consider how a direct mail automation tool like PostGrid can ensure optimized and secure HIPAA communication for your organization.
PostGrid uses a fully automated direct mail system for printing and sending vital healthcare documents for your organization. Besides ensuring secure HIPAA communication for your business, it also offers advanced tools like the address verification API.
Hence, streamlining your healthcare communication is not the only benefit of hiring a business associate like PostGrid. You can optimize various aspects of your business with tools like PostGrid and optimize your core business operations.