Ensuring HIPAA compliance with virtual care is essential for any healthcare provider or medical organization. Virtual care is becoming increasingly popular as it allows patients to access medical care from the comfort of their own homes. As such, it is important to understand the different types of virtual care and how to ensure HIPAA compliance. It includes understanding the data security requirements, the need for a Business Associate Agreement (BAA), and the proper safeguards for patient records. With the correct information and tools, healthcare providers can ensure HIPAA compliance and provide the best possible care for their patients.
Overview of HIPAA and its Importance
The Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act (HIPAA) was enacted in 1996. Since then, it has been amended several times to account for new technologies and changes in the healthcare system. HIPAA is an essential law for protecting patient data, which is especially valuable in a virtual care setting where a patient’s information is often shared through digital means. HIPAA compliance is critical for any healthcare provider that is utilizing virtual care. There are multiple types of virtual care, including video conferencing, messaging, and store-and-forward technology, each with its own HIPAA compliance requirements. Despite its importance, HIPAA can be complex and challenging to navigate. Healthcare providers can take steps to ensure they are compliant when using different types of virtual care. By understanding the various HIPAA requirements for different virtual care solutions, healthcare providers can ensure patient data is kept safe and secure.
Types of Virtual Care
There are many different types of virtual care, each with specific HIPAA compliance requirements. These different types of virtual care include video conferencing, messaging, and store-and-forward technology. Each of these technologies has its own HIPAA compliance requirements, though overlapping elements exist. Virtual care can be used for various purposes, including patient education and coaching.
Virtual care can be implemented at every point in the care continuum for all departments in the healthcare industry. Virtual care is not restricted to video chats or general health problems. An EHR-integrated virtual care platform improves patient access to better care, wherever they are, for almost any care they need. The following are different types of virtual care:
- Primary Care
Primary care providers enjoy an ongoing relationship with their patients. They provide preventative treatment and general appointments like annual wellness checks. They treat patients with various health concerns. Regular appointments can be completed via the internet. Experts or interpreters can be added to the virtual video conference if needed.
- Inpatient Medical
Virtual care in hospitals could help to reduce the spread of infectious illnesses. Tablets owned by hospitals or smartphones owned by patients can assist patients and their providers in communicating without needing personal protection apparatus (PPE). Remote monitoring of patients can enhance outcomes, particularly when prolonged monitoring is required.
- Ambulatory and Outpatient Treatment
Outpatient care is a service that does not need any overnight stays. Certain outpatient services require an initial consultation before the visit, which can be conducted online. Monitoring and follow-up after the visit can also be carried out electronically. If follow-up care is more comfortable for patients, it is more effective!
The following ambulatory and outpatient services can significantly benefit from virtual care
- Health appointments for the mentally ill
- Annual wellness examinations
- Physical therapy
- Colonoscopy consultation and follow-up treatment
- Pre-visit blood/urine tests and follow-up treatment
- Mammogram follow-up care
- Pre-visits for radiation and chemotherapy and follow-up treatment
- Emergency Care
At the very least, 30 percent of all emergency room visits are not urgent, which means that the patient can receive the treatment they need at an urgent care facility or even from their home. Virtual care can help Emergency Department staff triage patients remotely, keep patients with potentially infectious diseases away from the ED, and offer better service and assistance to patients with the most urgent needs.
- Urgent Care
When a patient is sick or injured but not severe enough to require emergency room treatment and seeks urgent health centers, virtual urgent care visits are a way to determine if a patient is required to go to the hospital or clinic for further medical treatment or remain to receive remote medical care at home.
- Care for Nursing Professionals Who are Skilled
Nurses can use virtual health to help patients triage as well as assist in managing chronic illnesses like diabetes, review treatment plans, provide at-home wound treatment, and more. Virtual care allows nurses to provide more effective healthcare to more patients. This is especially true when it is seamlessly integrated into an EHR.
- Rural Health Clinics
Rural communities greatly benefit from virtual healthcare. Rural communities are typically more affluent and less healthful than those who live in urban regions. Virtual care enhances the accessibility of rural communities to specialist healthcare, provides providers with access to greater numbers of patients across a wider geographical area, and enhances surveillance and treatment for chronic diseases.
HIPAA Requirements for Video Conferencing
In video conferencing, there are many specific HIPAA requirements healthcare providers must follow. First and foremost, patients must consent to the video conference. This is essential as it ensures the patient knows they are participating in a video conference and what information will be shared. Video conferencing allows healthcare providers to share diagnostic images and other sensitive patient information. It is important to have consent before sharing any of this information. Another critical requirement for video conferencing is maintaining a log of all video conferences and storing those logs for a minimum of 90 days. This log should include the date of the conference, the parties involved, and a summary of the shared information. Healthcare providers must also take steps to protect video conference data. It includes securing the video conference room, using encryption, and adhering to HIPAA breach notification guidelines. With video conferencing, it is important to ensure the medical provider’s equipment is HIPAA compliant.
HIPAA Requirements for Messaging
Messaging is another means of virtual care that has specific HIPAA compliance requirements. Like video conferencing, messaging requires patient consent. The healthcare provider must inform the patient of the type of information that will be exchanged and how they will use it. With messaging, the patient’s information will likely be in the form of an exam or diagnostic report. It is important to note that a summary of the information differs from the original report. A summary is likely sufficient for the patient’s needs, while the original report must be kept in the healthcare provider’s records. With messaging, the healthcare provider should treat the patient’s information as if it were written on paper. This means no typing the information directly into the messaging app. Instead, the healthcare provider should print the report, summarize the information and then send it to the patient through the messaging app.
HIPAA Requirements for Store-And-Forward Technology
Store-and-forward technology is a specific type of virtual care that requires its own HIPAA compliance requirements. Store-and-forward technology, or secure file transfer, allows a healthcare provider to receive patient information and send it back to the patient. It could be test results, diagnostic images, or other information the patient has shared with their medical provider. This technology must be HIPAA compliant, which means it must be encrypted and secure. Store-and-forward technology is often used for sending large files because the transmission is broken into smaller pieces. The patient will likely have to sign a consent form before sending any information. Store-and-forward technology does not require the patient to consent. This is because the healthcare provider sends the information to themselves, not the patient. The healthcare provider must keep a log of information sent through the secure file transfer.
Best Practices for HIPAA Compliance with Virtual Care
There are a variety of best practices healthcare providers can follow to ensure they are adhering to HIPAA compliance requirements. First and foremost, healthcare providers must inform the patient of the type of information that will be exchanged and how it will be used. This is especially critical for messaging and store-and-forward technology. The patient must consent to the information being sent and understand how it will be used. The healthcare provider must also be selective about the information sent through virtual care. Providers should only send information that is necessary, as well as adhere to any state or federal guidelines. Store-and-forward technology is often used to send large files. Therefore, there may be better options than sending a single piece of information, such as test results.
Tools for HIPAA Compliance
There are a variety of tools healthcare providers can utilize to adhere to HIPAA compliance requirements. First and foremost, providers should select a virtual care solution that is HIPAA compliant such as Hucu.ai. This is crucial to ensuring that patient information is kept safe. In addition, providers should take advantage of end-to-end encryption. This can be used on all types of virtual care, including video conferencing and text messaging. Finally, providers should utilize a virtual care security solution. This can be used to monitor and track all virtual care communication. It can be critical to ensure all communications are HIPAA compliant.
Providing virtual care while ensuring compliance with the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act (HIPAA) can be a daunting challenge. However, with the right strategies, healthcare providers can ensure HIPAA compliance while delivering effective and efficient virtual care. It is important to understand the different types of virtual care available and how they can maintain HIPAA compliance. It includes understanding the importance of secure communication methods, data encryption, and business associate agreements. HIPAA compliance can be maintained with the proper measures while providing quality virtual care to patients.