There is growing awareness centered around healthcare data privacy. With the spread of diseases and other health issues coming to light, the secure transmission of healthcare data is now a global concern. Thankfully, with today’s quickly evolving technologies, especially in regards to mobile, mobile communications itself, is becoming a power tool for healthcare in ways that were not even envisioned a few years ago.
The power of mobile devices, and in particular the personal devices of healthcare workers on the front line of disease control, is revealing the growing issue of maintaining HIPAA compliance in the face of a fast move and globally spreading health concerns such as Ebola.
Being able to share clinical data via a front line healthcare worker’s personal mobile device and other doctors and healthcare workers on the other side of the planet in real-time; could be a key factor in stopping the spread of disease.
Most healthcare professionals, particularly doctors and nurses, all over the world have cellphones and smartphones, and being able to quickly text clinical patient data and even attach a photo could provide a valuable information exchange that could save lives. The problem is using standard SMS messaging is not secure.
Because of several inherent technology issues, one of the biggest security threats with SMS is the messages get copied as it hops from server to server around the world. These copies are not always deleted and can be easily copied and distributed. In addition, SMS messages are not encrypted, so if leaked or accessed, they can easily be read. Also, if the sending or receiving mobile device is lost or stolen, the SMS messages on the device could easily be retrieved.
It is these security issues that create violations of The Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act, which for US citizens are the laws that govern one’s Protected Health Information (PHI). PHI is any information about health status, provision of health care, or payment for health care that can be linked to a specific individual.
The Us government’s department of Health and Human Services (HHS) and the Office of Civil Rights (OCR) are responsible for enforcing HIPAA and are cracking down on healthcare operations and focusing on mobile communications.
The power of quick detailed patient information exchange via personal mobile devices could save one’s life, but if it is not done right, then it could result in a very large financial and legal penalty for the doctors, nurses, and hospitals related to the violation.
Fortunately, in the last couple of years, several easy to use and apply secure mobile messaging technologies have become available, such as the TigerText HIPAA compliant secure messaging app.
Secure messaging allows healthcare workers to feel secure in their ability to send critical patient information, without the worry of HIPAA fines and legal action. More importantly, they know that not only are they free from HIPAA compliance issues, but that the patient’s privacy is protected as well.
The difference between SMS and secure messaging is that in the case of a service like TigerText, the messages are sent through a secure server technology and that copies of the messages are not made and left all throughout the server chain.
Another difference is that messages and attachments are encrypted so if a device is lost or stolen, and there are messages on the device, they will not be readable. In addition, the messages auto-delete after a set period of time and can be remotely wiped.
It is these security features that protect the messaging data, which a cornerstone of the HIPAA laws and is critical for compliance.
If caregivers wish to use their mobile devices to send critical clinical patient information, then they should work with their healthcare information technology administrator to get secure messaging technology installed on their mobile devices and workstations.
The question is not, “How can sending patient information via mobile devices be useful?” but rather, “How do you send patient information via mobile?” The answer is HIPAA compliant secure messaging, which protects the patient information and the caregiver’s security.