Last Updated: February 09, 2023

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As with all healthcare services, telemedicine includes HIPAA guidelines. At first glance, it seems that ePHI guidelines and the HIPPA Privacy Rule cover these remote communications. However, in practice, compliance requires more than ensuring remote communication between physician and patient remains confidential. This is because telemedicine involves its own security weakness, separate from patient files and the like. Namely, the security of the communication method used. Meeting this compliance requirement involves the HIPAA Security Rule. The telehealth provider must ensure that only authorized users have access to the patient's ePHI. In addition, the communication system must include security measures that protect the patient's information. This means that the telemedicine software you choose must include adequate security measures to both protect communications and guard against hackers. Finally, the provider must implement a system to monitor these communications in order to prevent breaches that are either accidental or malicious in nature.

Telemedicine and HIPAA

Whatever technology you choose to provide remote healthcare services, it must be HIPAA compliant. This means high-level security for both the product itself and the vendor who supplies it. Ideally, your vendor enters a business associate agreement with your facility.

HIPAA compliance goes beyond the platform through which you offer telehealth services to include the provider, his or her staff, and even the patient. As with in-house healthcare services, you prove telemedicine HIPAA compliance through secure, documented, organized practices between all parties. This means that, when you conduct consultations over video chat, you apply the same level of security to storing electronic files, images, and videos as you do with your patients' physical documents.

This level of security requires moving beyond readily available technologies such as Skype and Facetime for live video chats with patients. Why? Because these platforms do not take place over encrypted connections. A HIPAA-compliant telemedicine software solution includes encrypted data transmission and secure network connections. In addition, it does not store the video from these consultations. After all, you don't create video records of in-office patient consultations as part of the patient history.

Communicating Via Secure Messaging

To communicate with your patients via secure, encrypted platforms, you have two options. The first is granting the patient temporary authorization to your network's secure messaging application. The second is organizing a temporary browsing session over that same secure platform. If you integrate this platform into your EHR, you save an enormous amount of time performing patient updates.

These secure messaging systems work with more than remote patient consultations. When patients receive in-home care or visit a facility, nurses and other staff can communicate patient information easily and securely while still adhering to guidelines in the HIPAA Privacy Rule.

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Though the main benefit is ensuring your practice remains HIPAA compliant, secure messaging platforms offer a variety of other benefits, including:

  • Attach diagnostic images to messages for quick, accurate diagnosis
  • Perform risk management analyses with access reports integrated with EHR, meeting the requirements of Meaningful Use Stage 2
  • Physicians and staff send and receive ePHI securely, from any location
  • Streamline admissions and discharges in emergency rooms and urgent care centers

When you use secure remote messaging platforms, you can also integrate delivery notifications and read receipts. This adds another layer to your accountability measures, reduces wait time between sending messages and receiving replies, and ensures your ePHI remains in compliance with HIPAA guidelines.

Telemedicine Privacy Concerns

For many patients, privacy concerns are the main worry regarding telemedicine. They want to know that information and communication transmitted online is secure, and that remote care offers the same level of confidentiality as in-office treatment.

You need to provide patients assurance that your practice respects their right to privacy, much like the HIPAA forms you provide to the patients you see face-to-face. This is where the guideline requiring providers to document their practices serves its dual purpose, as you may use this documentation to help educate patients about the security measures you implement and how your chosen technology solutions protect their privacy.

Just as when the legislation first rolled out, worries about telemedicine and HIPAA compliance can feel overwhelming. Luckily, the past 20 years have shown practices that remaining compliant is easier than it seems. The same is true as regards telemedicine, since cloud solutions allow you to protect your patients' privacy without investing in expensive hardware. It's a nice bonus that those security measures – encrypted communications – come with additional benefits for your practice. Even practices that don't include physician-to-patient telehealth services benefit from these security measures, since anyone on your staff can securely relay patient data, images, and more.

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