You may think you know HIPAA inside and out, but experts say many practices and physicians are making mistakes regarding protected health information (PHI) that could get them into big trouble with the law. Here are nine of the most common compliance missteps they say practices and physicians are making.
1. TEXTING UNENCRYPTED PHI
For most physicians, texting is an easy, convenient, and efficient way to communicate with patients and colleagues. But if a text contains unencrypted PHI, that could raise serious HIPAA problems.
"One of the big things people are doing these days is texting PHI, and people seem to be ignoring the fact that text messages can be read by anyone, they can be forwarded to anyone, [and] they're not encrypted in any fashion when they reside on a telecommunications provider's server," says Jim Hook, director of consulting services at healthcare consulting firm The Fox Group, LLC. "People really need to understand that [short message service (SMS)] text messaging is inherently nonsecure, and it's noncompliant with HIPAA."
That's not to say that texting PHI is never appropriate, it just means that physicians must find a way to do so securely. While the privacy and security rules don't provide explicit text messaging guidelines, they do state that covered entities must have "reasonable and appropriate safeguards to protect the confidentiality, availability, and integrity of protected health information," says Michelle Caswell, senior director, legal and compliance, at healthcare risk-management consulting firm Clearwater Compliance, LLC. As a result, Caswell, who formerly worked for HHS' Office for Civil Rights, says physicians must consider, "What would I put on my [smart] phone to reasonably and appropriately safeguard that information?" Most likely, the answer will be a secure messaging service with encryption, she says, adding that many inexpensive solutions are available to providers.