HIPAA-Compliant Text Messaging Closes Communication Gaps in Health Care

Messaging apps like Slack revolutionized long-distance and group communication by making text messaging possible over the Internet. Now we can text and video chat with people anywhere in the world without having to pay exorbitant fees to a phone company. Messaging technology has dramatically improved communications for businesses and entrepreneurs in nearly every industry except one: health care.

HIPAA-Compliant Text Messaging Closes Communication Gaps in Health Care

Why hasn’t health care taken advantage of Slack?

If you’ve been inside a medical facility, you’ve probably seen nurses and physicians racing around corridors to flag down other staff and communicate information about a patient. If you’ve ever wondered why they don’t just take out their phone and text one another, it’s due to HIPAA.

What is HIPAA?

Health-care communications, including electronic communications, are regulated by the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act of 1996 (HIPAA). The HIPAA is a U.S. law designed to protect the privacy of medical records and confidential communications between patients and their providers.

Standards and protocols govern how information can be transmitted electronically, including strict client-side data encryption rules. Unfortunately, text messaging and apps like Slack don’t adequately comply with those standards.

The strict regulations imposed by HIPAA are intended for everyone’s safety. Hackers know medical records include all the information they need to steal someone’s identity, so extra care is required to secure them.

Messaging apps might claim to be secure, but they’re regularly exploited. In fact, Slack was hacked in 2015, which compromised thousands of users’ names, email addresses, and even encrypted passwords.

HIPAA-compliant text messaging has arrived!

Athenahealth, the top-ranked software used by over 99,000 providers, is closing the communication gap with a program called athenaText. It’s a free, HIPAA-compliant, real-time text messaging system that facilitates necessary, brief conversations between physicians and nurses.

TheHealthcareBlog.com calls it “Slack for Healthcare.” The article includes a screenshot that demonstrates how the program can be used to communicate patient progress, including a photo of the affected area.

The piece ends with a 16-minute video interview with the VP of UX at Athenahealth, Abbe Don. Don explains how the program works and integrates directly into athenaClinicals: the database that stores electronic medical records.

Quality patient care depends on swift communication between health-care workers. Thanks to powerful encryption technology, as more providers embrace this new communication tool, the quality of patient care will rise all over the nation.

The benefit of electronic health records

Although any electronically stored data is at risk for potential hacking, that risk is mitigated with the right protection. Electronic health records (EHR) are convenient because they can be accessed on the computer from any facility.

A provider can update your records with a few keystrokes and if you switch providers, your records can be transferred instantly. All of the information is encrypted to the highest standards.

What exactly is encryption?

According to Virtru, a leader in email encryption, “Encryption scrambles data so that it can only be deciphered by an authorized user, using a string of data called the key. This ensures that, if a malicious actor intercepts the data, they will not be able to read it.”

Data doesn’t just get stolen from a database or a hard drive; it can be snatched while it’s being transmitted. Encryption is the only way to protect data in transit.

Hackers often target medical records

In 2014, the personal data for 4.5 million Community Health Systems patients was stolen. The hackers exploited a flaw in the VPN used by staff to access healthcare.gov remotely.

Testifying before Congress about the security flaws in the healthcare.gov website, Kennedy said, “The hackers used stolen credentials to log into the network posing as employees. Once in, they hacked their way into a database and stole millions of Social Security numbers and other records.”

The next time you’re in a medical facility and you see a health-care worker text messaging, don’t assume she’s slacking off. The person is probably using athenaText to communicate vital information about a patient’s care plan.

About the Author

Jenna Cyprus
Jenna is a freelance writer and business consultant who covers business, technology, and entrepreneurship. She's lectured for several universities, and worked with over 100 businesses over the course of the last 15 years. She's a mother of two kids, and loves to go camping, hiking, and skiing with her family.