The consequences of HIPAA violations can be devastating for any healthcare business. The penalties for non-compliance can range from hundreds to hundreds of thousands of dollars, depending on the level of negligence. The inability to meet complex HIPAA regulations can lead to regulatory fines, a blemished reputation, loss of patients, and, ultimately, business disruption.
Over 31.5 million patient records were breached in the first half of 2019
While a majority of incidents can be ascribed to IT network security vulnerabilities, in many cases, the violations resulted from the lack of sufficient control over medical suppliers and their compliance with personal data protection standards.
HIPAA Requirements Affect Medical Answering Services
As “business associates,” service providers for the medical industry are under the same obligation as medical facilities to protect patient data in a HIPAA compliant manner. This also applies to medical answering services, which have access to Personal Health Information (PHI). HIPAA regulations affect the way how call answering companies may interact with patients and pass on patient information to doctors.
Data protection regulations mandate that any PHI is to be transferred securely. For that reason, exchanging patient information between doctors and call agents via text messages or free messenger apps is out of the question, as these methods of communication can be easily compromised.
All healthcare organizations and business associates can verify their compliance with HIPAA regulations using the HIPAA compliance checklist.
How to Ensure HIPAA Compliant Live Call Answering?
The list of measures that call answering companies should implement to assure the required level of protection to PHI is quite extensive.
Here, we present the most significant safeguards that a reliable medical answering provider should observe:
- Medical answering companies should only communicate with patients and medical personnel via encrypted channels, such as secure web portals or secure messaging platforms. It is forbidden to send any patient data, even a name or a phone number, by text as this is classified as PHI.
- Access to all personal patient information should be protected by a unique combination of a username and PIN code. Every person authorized to access PHI must log in through their own account, and cannot use another colleague’s details.
- Personnel providing call answering services should undergo periodic regulatory training to ensure that everyone on the team is up-to-date with the current data protection regulations and requirements in force.
- All activities involving any access and exchange of PHI (e.g., taking down patient’s information, forwarding call details to the Client) should be logged to facilitate transparency and enable data audits.
- Med answering service providers are required to develop and regularly assess a contingency plan in case of an emergency or a breach, to safeguard the continuity of data protection.
Between 2009 and 2018, business associates were responsible for 10 out of 25 largest data breaches in healthcare.
[Source: HIPAA Journal]
Why It’s Critical That Medical Businesses Choose HIPAA Compliant Call Forwarding Services
It’s the medical provider’s responsibility to ensure that business associates meet regulatory compliance and duly protect the privacy and identity of all patients. Should any breach happen, it may exert a negative influence not only on a call answering provider but also on a doctor’s practice, hospital, or dentist’s that did not take precautions to keep PHI safe.
For that reason, engaging a trusted, healthcare-only answering company that meets the stringent HIPAA requirements should be a priority for any medical business that wants to take the pressure off of in-house staff, and ensure high quality of healthcare services.
How to choose the best call answering company for your healthcare business?
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