Breakthroughs in telemedicine are making the impossible possible. For example, scientists are diagnosing PTSD using only voice samples.
However, there are risks that come with technology. Video conferencing might be pushing some doctors to overprescribe antibiotics for children.
For the average health worker, telemedicine means
- Saving money
- Reaching more people in need
- Improving health outcomes across a wider area
Healthcare professionals need to make educated decisions that consider the protected health information (PHI) of their patients. This includes abiding by Health Insurance and Portability and Accountability Act (HIPAA) regulations when it comes to any data, especially video. Why is HIPAA compliance so important?
HIPAA and video conferencing software
Telehealth is showing strong growth as a market and will soon lose the “tele” and become just “health.” As technology in healthcare becomes more accepted and expected, health consumers and providers will get pickier when it comes to video communication services.
The privacy and security of patient information should be your top concern. Without proper safeguards, trust in your health services will evaporate, and you’ll lose business.
And minor slipups on information security can have other costs; HIPAA violations can result in millions of dollars in fines and lawsuits. In 2018, the Office for Civil Rights issued more than $25 million in penalties.
The majority of HIPAA violations come from human error. Installing safeguards through technology, such as video conferencing, is one way to combat this. However, HIPAA rules are complex, so it’s never a “one-and-done” solution. Understanding the regulations is the first step to creating the right solution.
A brief explanation of how HIPAA works
HIPAA regulations are designed to protect the privacy of patient information. There are guidelines for the transfer and storage of data on digital channels. The guidelines include details about the use of data, encryption, servers, authentication, and audit trails.
In telehealth, HIPAA standards are the responsibility of both the video conferencing vendor and the health provider.
This shared responsibility can be formalized through a business associate agreement (BAA). The agreement is a method of sharing the risk and is, essentially, a promise to be accountable should a HIPAA breach take place.
Some big players such as Apple and Skype have deliberately chosen not to take on these risks. Others will embrace them and eagerly sign a BAA because they’re looking to carve out a section of the video conferencing marketplace.
However, even if a software provider claims to be HIPAA compliant and signs a BAA, it’s still possible to violate HIPAA rules. All it takes is one untrained staff member who sends a video file to the wrong address.
Finding a HIPAA-compliant service doesn’t guarantee everyone in the organization will be compliant. Rather, it should be part of your overall security system.
Ready to shop? Here’s what to look for
You wouldn’t go to the supermarket without a shopping list, so why would you shop for software without a list?
Here are the top factors your healthcare organization should keep in mind when looking to partner with a technology provider:
- What do your end users need? Are they already using other software? Will the new software be too drastic a change from what they’re used to?
- Where are your users located? Internet strength varies by location. Depending on where your customers live, you may need to consider costlier providers with more advanced technology capabilities. They can provide superior video regardless of internet strength.
- Is there a best solution for your health sector? Some video conferencing solutions focus on specific fields, such as psychiatry or mental health. These providers can offer supplementary services that go beyond video conferencing. Additional services can include patient management, appointment scheduling, reminders, digital forms, and integration with electronic health record systems like Epic.
- Has the software been adopted by other healthcare brands? While many providers offer free trials, you can’t spend months testing every single one. Instead, ask yourself, “Do other organizations in my sector use and trust this product?” If so, this is an indication of a product’s good reputation.
- Will they sign a BAA? Not all providers are willing to sign a BAA. Make sure to ask providers about their policy on signing a BAA before agreeing to work with them.
- What sort of access and authentication controls are used? There must be a balance between ease of use and unauthorized access. Many solutions offer multiple steps in their identification process to make sure the right people have access at the right time.
- Does the solution have end-to-end encryption? There are many types of encryption, so find out which type the new solution uses. There are also active risk management services, such as ThetaLake. These services use AI to analyze your video for potential compliance risks, such as when a confidential form is in view.
- Does the software integrate with your current workflow? Some providers offer their own platform, cloud storage, or ecosystem. Others boast easy integration with other software, electronic health record systems, patient management, or billing services.
- What’s the cost? Many providers offer a free trial for a specified time. Only a few providers have a free version for individuals or small practices. Most provide paid versions that cater to larger organizations.
Now that you have an idea what you’re looking for, it’s time to start researching potential vendors. We’ve used cost as a starting point in comparing various software options (from least to most expensive).
Comparing the top HIPAA-compliant video conferencing services
There are literally hundreds of HIPAA-compliant telehealth solutions. Below are a few of the highest rated and most popular options found on software review websites:
- Free for limited services
- Reviewers on Capterra highlighted the solution’s free option and ease of use but mentioned that calls drop if the internet service isn’t strong
- Focused on mental and behavioral health
- Practice management for individuals and small to medium organizations
- Unlimited users, storage, and support
- Specifically tailored for mental health applications
- Electronic health record software with Wiley Practice Planners treatment planning solution add-on
- Part of a wider practice management platform for small businesses in health and wellness
- Includes integrated features such as free appointment reminders (SMS, email, and voice), mobile app, e-claim filing
- Reviewers report a clean interface
- Zoom for healthcare
- Consistent, high-quality video
- Commonly used in webinars
- Used by large organizations, such as Shell and NASA
- Optimized for areas of poor internet service so it’s good for clients overseas or in rural areas
As you can see, there are many video conferencing options for the health sector. When choosing a service, focus on your business objectives. You don’t want complicated, unnecessary features to sway your decision.
Embrace the future while maintaining standards
With proper research and planning, you can ensure your telehealth technology upholds the privacy and security of patient information. HIPAA-compliant video conferencing software is one tool that can help.
While telemedicine has its challenges, the potential advantages are far greater. Organizations can save money and reach more people in need. But to do so, they need the right technology partner. Use this article to jump-start your research and find a partner who values security, privacy, and quality.