Whether it’s to communicate appointment reminders or test results, being able to easily reach patients is essential, but phone calls and even emails are not always the most effective method of communication.

Eight out of ten Americans generally ignore calls from unknown phone numbers, and the average email open rate is only about 21%—poor numbers when it comes time to communicate about healthcare.

90% of text messages are read within three minutes, so messaging (texting in particular) gives healthcare providers and organizations a more effective way to reach patients and receive faster responses when needed. But healthcare professionals can’t simply text a patient over iMessage or Whatsapp. They must ensure they’re staying compliant with HIPAA’s messaging regulations.

HIPAA-Compliant Messaging and Mental & Behavioral Health

Simply put, HIPAA-compliant messaging involves sending messages to patients in a way that is secure and does not compromise the confidentiality and integrity of protected health information (PHI). These messages may include anything from appointment reminders and motivational messages to real-time conversations with a healthcare provider.

When it comes to mental and behavioral health, messaging is becoming an increasingly popular way for individuals to seek out support without having to tackle the obstacles that in-person appointments can often bring. In addition to being convenient for patients, HIPAA-compliant messaging can have many other benefits when used correctly, such as:

However, when deciding to use a messaging solution, make sure to follow these tips to make sure your organization or practice isn’t faced with hefty non-compliance fines.

Tips for Staying HIPAA Compliant

1. Separate personal and professional messaging

While it’s possible to send generic messages that do not contain PHI (such as appointment reminders) to a patient’s standard messaging system, you don’t want to take any chances. Opt for a separate application for all healthcare-related messages to best protect against any security breaches. While this may not connect directly to a specific HIPAA policy, it makes it easier to meet HIPAA regulations while also helping to foster a culture of compliance within your organization.

2. Choose a messaging app built for healthcare

Most messaging and video conferencing apps were not built to be HIPAA compliant. Popular applications like Whatsapp and Facebook Messenger do not encrypt messages and do not allow you to control who has access to your patients’ protected health information.

To gain the peace of mind that your patients’ information is secure and your organization isn’t at risk, it’s best to utilize HIPAA-compliant texting apps. Plus, a purpose-built application usually comes with secure video chatting capabilities, allowing for more personalized, engaging, and effective healthcare delivery.

3. Create clear policies and procedures

To safely leverage messaging software, make sure to create robust policies that are tailored to your unique organization. While it’s up to you to determine specific methods for meeting HIPAA regulations, your policy should detail:

With a robust policy, everyone (not just physicians) is aware of their responsibilities, protecting yourself, your employees, and your healthcare facility from any costly HIPAA violations.

4. Develop audit controls

Not only are comprehensive audit controls required by HIPAA, but they are also a best practice for your organization. However, traditional text messaging does not meet the requirement for “hardware, software and/or procedural mechanisms that record and examine activity” related to PHI. As a result, organizations often choose to partner with vendors who provide HIPAA-compliant applications, which come equipped with the tools you need for access monitoring.

5. Use access controls

Whether it’s through facial recognition, a fingerprint, password, or pin number, it’s critical that whichever messaging platform you choose requires patients, medical professionals, and any other users to authenticate themselves. The platform’s access controls should also only give users access to the information relevant to their role. In other words, employees who handle billing don’t need access to the patient’s health information.

Each individual organization must determine the specific software and systems they’ll use to manage access, but the HIPAA Security Rule requires:

iTether: Stay Connected and Compliant

Texting is an effective way of engaging patients, but without the right tools and expertise, you can end up putting your patients’ data and your organization at risk. When you partner with iTether, you don’t just get a HIPAA-compliant messaging system. You get a comprehensive and user-friendly communication platform that fosters better connections throughout every step of an individual’s recovery journey.

Contact us today and discover how Itether can help you securely communicate and connect with the people you serve.