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Our ways of communicating have evolved at the same time technology has. Texting and messaging applications have become the most prevalent form of communication in the 21st century, and it has been adopted not only in our personal lives, but also in other environments. Healthcare is no exception. However, there are several considerations that both patients and healthcare providers need to keep in mind when texting about their health information.
What is secure messaging in healthcare?
As patients, communicating with our doctors has become easier and faster thanks to mobile messaging applications. We don’t need to wait long hours in the ER to be assisted for a headache or carry imaging tests to our doctor’s office to have them checked. Nowadays, we can simply send a message to our physician with the information for them to have constant remote monitoring. However, this communication should not be done through any app. Instead, all actors involved should use specific secure texting apps for healthcare.
Features of secure texting apps
Why use specific secure messaging healthcare software? There are several features that make these apps different from those that we use for our daily, personal communication.
The first main characteristic these apps have is that messages are granted end-to-end encryption. The process involved in writing a text and having it sent to other users seems very simple and quick, but the truth is that messages travel a long distance and go through many different devices until they reach their destination. If messages are not encrypted, any of these devices could save them, read them, and give them incorrect uses. Encryption makes sure only the receiver can access the content in messages.
Secure login and authentication
To ensure that no one else can access the user’s account, the app has to include an authentication process. This can be done by passwords, facial or fingerprint recognition. Both patients and physicians have to pass this security barrier every time they want to enter the app in order to prevent other people from accessing PHI (private health information).
Message tracking and audit trail
Other very important features in these apps are message tracking and audit trail functions. These have two purposes to guarantee efficiency and security. In terms of efficiency, message tracking allows users to know when a message was received and read without having the receiver confirm receipt. In terms of security, these functions allow users on both sides to delete messages and information from the app remotely in case of phone theft or loss.
General PHI protection
There are other functions that can be included in a secure messaging app for healthcare in order to protect all health information. For example, on-screen notifications from these apps do not include the content of messages. This way, users can only access the information they contain by accessing the app by entering authentication data.
Importance of secure texting in digital health: benefits and risks
There are several reasons why texting is so useful in the healthcare environment, as it is in our personal lives. However, if not used correctly, it can bring serious problems to all actors in the environment.
Privacy and data protection
When texting in the healthcare environment, it is important to use secure messaging apps. Some doctors contact their patients via regular apps, which may have end-to-end encryption but not all the other features mentioned above, among others. This behavior can lead to data theft and a lack of privacy. Creating a secure messaging app with our Fleksy SDK will ensure all your PHI is protected while customizing your app to fit your healthcare institution’s needs. We are committed to preserving users’ data in all environments, which makes our SDK a perfect match for secure messaging in healthcare.
Better patient experience
But why do patients and physicians use messaging apps in the first place? Whether they are using secure apps or not, patients prefer to text their doctors because it improves their experience. Texting allows faster communication, as patients can contact their doctors remotely, especially in medical urgencies. For sure, an exchange via SMS does not replace a face-to-face consultation, but it can be useful for quick doubts and, for instance, sharing image tests.
EHR available everywhere
Some secure messaging apps allow users to link their EHRs. This way, doctors and patients can access these documents easily without having to worry about other people sneaking in.
Digital phenotype identification
Using secure messaging apps has more benefits than just providing quick and safe communication. These apps locally save information that can be used for more than texting. New healthcare technologies can collect digital information for doctors to analyze. Not only the messages users type, but how they type them defines patients’ digital phenotype. This information can be used to prevent diseases, identify at-risk populations and assess the effectiveness of treatments.
Why is it important to comply with HIPAA?
The HIPAA (Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act) is a document that regulates how the actors involved in healthcare should deal with PHI to keep it private and safe from unauthorized uses, identity theft and cyber-attacks. Using HIPAA-compliant text messaging apps represents following a series of restrictions that will ensure all PHI is secured. As a secondary effect, patients will feel more confident about their PHI and their engagement will be higher. Our keyboard SDK can be very well included in the creation of a secure messaging app that combines HIPAA-compliant requirements together with data collection for disease prevention.
5 most common myths about secure messaging
When thinking about messaging in the healthcare environment, there are a few myths that need urgent debunking.
Any messaging app will do
Not any messaging app is recommended for this purpose. Considering the content of the messages with your doctor contain PHI, they should be treated as confidential. That’s why the apps used for this have to revolve around privacy and confidentiality, and contain all the features needed to ensure that there are no data leaks. For this, only HIPAA-compliant instant messaging should be used.
Avoiding messaging is easier
While a face-to-face consultation cannot be replaced by an SMS conversation, it is true that all of us use texting as a fast and efficient way of communicating, and healthcare is not an exception. We cannot ignore the fact that both patients and doctors might prefer using messaging apps for quick communications, so instead of trying to dismiss it, the best is to have HIPAA regulate the use of these apps and apply best practices to our usage.
Secure messaging apps are expensive
Although it is true that secure messaging has to be paid for, making such a statement is not true. The cost of paying for a secure messaging system for a whole organization is small when compared to the benefits that it can provide. Besides, not complying with HIPAA can lead to fines for not protecting patients’ information, which would represent a much bigger monetary expense and a negative impact on reputation.
Secure messaging apps can only be used by patients and doctors
Even if doctors and patients are considered to be the most probable users of secure messaging apps, the truth is different actors in a healthcare organization can have access to these platforms. X-ray technicians, biochemists and nurses can also use these apps to upload information about patients in order to create an integral ecosystem of data.
Using messaging apps in organizations is messy
The use of any tool can be messy within an organization as long as it is not systematized and regulated throughout the whole organization. If best practices are followed, messaging apps shouldn’t be a problem, but a solution to improve communication at all levels.
Best practices and tips
To ensure the application of secure messaging in your healthcare organization, there should be a meticulous development and implementation process to avoid issues among the personnel and patients. This process can be split into four stages: development, testing, deployment and monitoring.
During the development phase, define what are the organization’s needs and what this system is going to be applied for. Identify which devices are used in your institution and whether staff will use their own personal devices or if there’s a need to buy new ones. If that is the case, analyze how that expense will be faced. Ensure all connectivity requirements are in line with the project (WiFi networks, mobile data coverage, etc.) To close this stage, test the system in terms of compliance and privacy with your IT team.
In the testing stage, expand the use of this system little by little to certain reduced groups of people inside the institution. Ask for feedback and comments on their perceptions of the process. Use this group-testing method to create interest within the community.
In the deployment phase, first create meetings or webinars to train the staff on how to use the system, give them tips of use, and create troubleshooting protocol guides for all types of issues that could arise (lost or stolen devices, poor connectivity, authentication, etc.) Identify the best users in the organization and appoint them as assistants to help the rest.
Finally, once the system is fully working organization-wide, monitor its usage. How much is it being used? How much has it improved efficiency? What changes and improvements can be done?
Factors to consider when choosing your solution
There are many secure messaging systems out there to choose from, and several of them are good options for your organization. What you need to keep in mind, in the first place, is that it is compliant with HIPAA regulations. To guarantee that there will be no privacy issues or fines, you can ask secure messaging companies for their BAA certification, which legally states their compliance condition.
Another thing to consider is the compatibility of the system with the mobile devices used in your organization, especially if you are following a BYOD policy, which means each user accesses the platform with their own device. This is also applicable to other medical tools that could be linked to the secure system platform and need to be compatible with it. To ensure all actors in the institution have the latest updates of the secure messaging system, you can create a mobile device management (MDM) platform, from which you can deploy instructions and modifications for all the devices in the network.
This MDM can be integrated with an offline virtual keyboard, easily created with our SDK. This way, all your personnel’s devices will have a powerful virtual keyboard that does not depend on the typically poor internet connection within the institution, will protect your PHI with the highest levels of privacy and security to comply with HIPAA and beyond, and contains a fast-learning dictionary database to include all the jargon and technical terms used in the healthcare environment to avoid typos and miscorrections. All together, these features will guarantee data privacy, and reliable and accurate communication.
Messaging apps can be very useful to allow actors in the healthcare environment to contact each other quickly and efficiently. However, privacy issues can occur if the wrong apps are used. To avoid this, HIPAA regulates the use of messaging apps and has created a set of features that secure messaging apps in healthcare must follow, such as end-to-end encryption, authentication, remote history deletion and audit trail. All these functions allow specific apps to ensure that all users’ PHI is protected and kept safely, in order to avoid data leaks and identity theft.
How does secure messaging work?
Secure messaging consists in texting apps that comply with HIPAA regulations in order to ensure that all patient PHI is kept private by using features such as end-to-end encryption, authentication, message tracking and audit trail.
What is HIPAA Compliant Messaging Software?
HIPAA is a regulatory document that states how healthcare providers should deal with their patients’ data to keep it safe. This way, HIPAA-compliant messaging apps follow these regulations to ensure that all PHI remains private and to avoid cyber-attacks and identity theft, for instance.
What are the requirements for secure messaging in HIPAA?
To make sure that PHI is confidential, some requirements included in the HIPAA are end-to-end encryption, secure authentication, message tracking and audit trail. Some other characteristics include remote history deletion and PHI-free notifications on devices.
What are some good choices for HIPAA compliant cloud storage?
At the moment, there are no cloud-services databases which are inherently HIPAA-compliant. These platforms usually have secure authentication, but anonymisation and end-to-end encryption have to be “handcrafted” by organizations in order to comply with HIPAA.