Effective, HIPAA compliant communication for remote healthcare teams

There are plenty of benefits to remote or hybrid teams, but there are also communication and security issues that must be kept in mind.

The idea of remote work is not new; the transition to more flexible working arrangements has been gaining momentum for several decades, but the healthcare sector has been slow to embrace this growing trend. COVID-19 has changed that.

Siemens Healthineers argues that healthcare providers can and should integrate remote work solutions into their operations as part of their long-term strategy, not just as a short-term response to COVID-19.

There are plenty of benefits to remote or hybrid teams, but there are also communication and security issues that must be kept in mind.

Benefits of remote work

Organizations that thrive in work-from-home arrangements may see lasting benefits, even when teams return to the office setting. They may learn that they can be more flexible and remote-friendly than they thought while still maintaining standards and reaching goals.

Aside from the obvious benefits such as reduced commuting times, remote work arrangements have also been shown to increase productivity, improve employee morale, and reduce stress and burnout, thereby lowering the incidence of treatment errors.

Working remotely also increases safety. Avoiding the danger of infection from a virus such as COVID-19 is an obvious example, but other risks can also be minimized, (e.g., the risks associated with exposure to radiation during cardiovascular treatments). Expensive and time-consuming hygiene protocols can also be reduced or eliminated.

How to stay connected while working remotely

It is important to adjust for differences in the remote environment to maintain team productivity, collaboration, and company culture. Here are some things to consider.

  • There will be fewer face-to-face interactions and structured meetings. Replace them with predictable, scheduled check-ins.
  • Include social interactions in your routine to keep teams connected. Establish a culture of accountability and trust to foster stronger social bonds and better team dynamics.
  • Quick questions for the cube next door are no longer an option. Convert to instant messaging tools for quick questions and HIPAA compliant email for more involved conversations.

We recently covered this topic for Physicians Practice: Enabling effective internal healthcare communication with HIPAA compliant email

Using the right communication tools

For an industry as demanding and fast-paced as healthcare, mobile messaging has emerged as a particularly valuable communication tool.

Collaboration apps do a lot of good as well. Organizations across all sectors are using Slack and Microsoft Teams for remote communication. It’s easy to use these tools to increase collaboration across multiple locations and they can even act as a forum for levity and laughter during the workday.

This, once again, fosters teamwork and productivity, but it’s also a gold mine for hackers.

Security concerns

Major issues afflict platforms like Slack and Teams, as they are potentially huge sieves of electronic protected health information (ePHI). Although they can be configured for use in healthcare, they are not HIPAA compliant by default.

With one click, sensitive information can be forwarded outside the organization, either by mistake or deliberately. Because of the openness of these apps, and the ease in which you can connect other apps, there’s so much that hackers can access.

If hackers start in email, they can easily move to Teams, SharePoint, or OneDrive. Or they can start in Teams and move to email. Because the ecosystem is so tightly interwoven, it’s fairly easy to infiltrate just one and get access to all the rest. That’s why it’s so important to enable all security features available on these apps, such as requiring multi-factor authentication and adding inbound email security to your email client.

HIPAA compliant communication

Without a doubt, the first concern that comes to mind given the rise of mobile messaging across the healthcare industry is the security of transmitted patient data. HIPAA requires that covered entities and business associates acting on their behalf implement administrative, physical, and technical safeguards when transmitting or storing ePHI.

HIPAA’s Security Rule provides a helpful framework for assessing and mitigating risks associated with transmitting ePHI. It does allow covered entities to communicate electronically, such as through email or instant messaging, provided they apply reasonable safeguards when doing so.

Email or instant messaging are allowed under HIPAA if access is restricted to the appropriate parties and data integrity is maintained. Encryption is an “addressable” standard according to HIPAA, but since there is no adequate alternative to securing a message, it is de facto a requirement.

Conclusion

Sharing information freely is great and speeds up business processes and decision-making. But that same share-ability can lead to some bad outcomes as well. If you’re not protecting yourself against account compromise or takeover, then bad actors can easily infiltrate your network.