Call Centers and HIPAA Compliance

HIPAA compliance for call centers is a vital consideration for all companies supplying an answering service or call-forwarding service for the healthcare industry. Since the Final Omnibus Rule amended the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act (HIPAA) in 2013, all service providers processing, holding or sending ePHI directly or on behalf of a healthcare group are subject to the same Privacy and Security Rules as the healthcare group itself.

What this means in reality is that healthcare groups will avoid engaging the services of a call center unless it can be independently proven that the call center is communicating ePHI in compliance with HIPAA. HIPAA compliant texting in call centers is not hard or costly to implement. Furthermore, it has been demonstrated that HIPAA compliance for call centers speeds up the cycle of communication – streamlining workflows and improving the level of service provided to patients.

Healthcare Organizations Adapt Secure Texting Solutions

Some of the most relevant changes for HIPAA compliance for call centers were made within the HIPAA Security Rule. The Security Rule governs subjects such as who should have access to ePHI, how the integrity of ePHI should be managed while patient data is being transmitted, and what security measures should be put in place to prevent an accidental or malicious breach of ePHI.

Many healthcare groups have adapted secure texting solutions to comply with the requirements of the Security Rule, and these solutions are equally appropriate to ensure HIPAA compliant texting in call centers as an different option to insecure forms of communication such as SMS, Instant Messaging and email.

By adapting their own secure texting solutions, call centers will be communicating ePHI in compliance with HIPAA with the necessary security measures in place to control who has access to ePHI, ensure the end-to-end integrity of ePHI and to stop any breaches of ePHI – either accidental or malicious.

How HIPAA Compliance for Call Centers Can be Conducted

Secure texting solutions provide  HIPAA compliance for call centers by only allowing authorized users to log onto the call center´s private communications network. Access to the network is gained through secure messaging apps only with an admin-issued username and PIN code.

Once signed into the network, authorized users can then communicate with other authorized users, send documents, files and images as attachments, and take part in secure group discussions when a scenario arises that would prosper due to collaboration.

Security measures are in place to stop ePHI being sent outside of the call center´s network, copied and pasted or saved to an external hard drive. All activity on the network is overlooked by a cloud-based secure messaging network and, if a potential breach of ePHI is identified, any communication can be remotely retracted and erased.

All communications are encrypted to NIST standards so that they are unreadable, undecipherable and cannot be used in the event that they are intercepted on a public Wi-Fi network; and – should an authorized user lose their mobile device or have it illegally taken – administrators can PIN lock the device to stop unauthorized access to ePHI.

Other security measures to ensure HIPAA compliance for call centers includes “message lifespans” – a feature that deletes messages including ePHI from an authorized user´s computer or mobile device after a predetermined length of time – and “app time outs”, a safety feature that logs users out of the network after a period of inactivity to stop unauthorized access to ePHI when a desktop computer or mobile device is left unattended.

The Benefits of Communicating ePHI in Compliance with HIPAA

There are many advantages of HIPAA compliance for call centers – not solely for the call center communicating ePHI in compliance with HIPAA, but also for the healthcare group it is providing a service for:

  • HIPAA compliant texting in call centers allows on-call physicians to receive sensitive patient information on the go.
  • Wound images, x-rays and patient records can also be attached to secure text messages to save the physician’s time.
  • Delivery alerts and read receipts cut out the need for follow-up messages and reduce the amount of time lost playing phone tag.
  • Both the call center and the healthcare group it provides a service for can adapt BYOD policies without the risk of an ePHI breach.
  • Physicians and other medical staff can leverage the speed and convenience of mobile technology to supply a higher level of service to patients.
  • Communicating ePHI in compliance with HIPAA also improves message accountability, as the following case study shows.

With17 centers in the Tucson area of Arizona, the call center serving the El Rio Community Health Centers adapted a HIPAA-compliant texting solution to address issues it was having with efficient call support, patient follow-up and message accountability.

Due to HIPAA compliant texting in call centers, response times improved so that 95% of queries were answered in sixty seconds or less, the concerns were evaluated and resolved more efficiently to supply a higher level of service to patients, and message accountability increased by 22%.

By being able to oversee communication metrics, managers at the Community Health Centers were able to put in place a streamlined workflow that ensured proper patient follow-up and risk management. According to the group’s CIO, communicating ePHI in compliance with HIPAA eliminated lost message mistakes which translated into increased patient satisfaction.

We said the beginning of this article that healthcare groups will avoid engaging the services of a call center unless it can be independently verified the call center is sending ePHI in compliance with HIPAA. However, that should not be the only reason for HIPAA compliance for call centers.

HIPAA compliant texting in call centers can lead to the healthcare groups served by the call center streamlining workflows and improving the level of service provided to patients. If a healthcare group benefits from the service it receives from the call center, the call centers reputation will be improved and new opportunities may arise.

We also said at the beginning of this article that HIPAA compliant texting in call centers is not hard or costly to adapt. This is due to the fact that secure messaging apps have a text-like interface that authorized users will already be familiar with and that will need no special training before they can implement it.

As HIPAA compliance for call centers is supplied through cloud-based “Software-as-a-Service” platform, there is no need to spend money on new servers, additional hardware or complicated software. Secure texting solutions come “out of the box” and can be adapted with 24 hours to fulfill all of a call center´s secure texting requirements.

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