Types of Healthcare Communication Systems and How HIPAA Applies to Them

There are many kinds of communications systems in healthcare but we can generalize them into three distinct categories such as provider to provider communication, internal communication, and provider to patient communication. Internal communications refer to different forms of staff messaging such asrequests to cover vacant shifts, policies and procedures and emergency messages.
Dr. Enrico Coiera published an article in the Clinical Biochemist Review in 2006 named “Communication Systems in Healthcare”. In this article, he very aptly wrote that if the information is the lifeblood of healthcare then communication systems are the heart that pumps it. The article was visionary and ahead of its time and correctly assumed that communication systems in the hospitals would evolve quickly.
It was just three years after this article that Congress passed the HITECH Act which “incentivized the use of EHRs (electronic health records). As a result of the “meaningful use” incentive, the use of EHRs increased 14.2% per year. Later in 2013, HIPAA Omnibus Rule made sure that communications systems were implemented with security and integrity of ePHI.
Patient satisfaction and patient-centered care are two goals of any healthcare provider and system. To achieve those, communication systems in healthcare are continuing to evolve to improve healthcare delivery and productivity.
Let’s look more closely at the three categories of communications in healthcare.

Provider-to-Provider Communication System

Provider to Provider communication systems is used for external clinical procedures, patient transfers, and insurance transactions, in healthcare that falls under the administrative and physical guidelines of the HIPAA Security Rule. This means that entities are responsible for protecting data integrity and for securing ePHI when it is received or sent in an electronic format. The entities have to ensure that ePHI is not disclosed, deleted, changed, or destroyed without authorization or consent. The rules regarding this category of communication systems are very strict and come with the necessity to implement ID authentication, mechanisms, data encryption, and audit trails. The department of health and human Services can issue huge fines if the HIPAA guidelines are not followed even if no data breach happens from the HIPAA violation.

Provider-to-Patient Communication Systems

The most common provider-to-patient communication is usually telemedicine consultations, reminders of appointments, etc. These systems don’t require the same type of security measures that are needed of provider to provider communication systems, but their use does fall under the HIPAA Privacy Rule. Therefore, a patient’s agreement is needed before any of these systems are used to communicate PHI. Once the consent is secured from the patient, then these communications are subject to Minimum Necessary Standard which states that PHI should be minimally exposed only to those with a need to access it.. On the flip side, there are also patient-to-provider communication systems. These can range from remote clinical consultation services (videoconferencing, consultation by email), to nurse call systems that can notify healthcare professionals about updates of a patient’s condition. Patient to provider systems can be integrated into EHRs so that they can automatically update patient records and in such a case, they are subject to the technical safeguards of the HIPAA Security Rule.

Internal Communication Systems

Internal communication systems may be subject to HIPAA Security Rule depending on how they are configured in the healthcare organization. For example, internal communication systems which are protected by a firewall may be used to communicate unencrypted ePHI only if Minimum Necessary Standard is complied with. Internal communications are always subject to HIPAA Privacy Rule and that can create huge challenges in emergency cases.
In emergency cases or when patients have to be evacuated or when there is a disaster and a surge of patients, healthcare organizations are required to activate CMS mandated Emergency Preparedness Plans. That dictates how communications during an emergency can be carried on.

Compliant Use is As Vital as Compliant Systems

Regardless of which category communications systems in healthcare are generalized into, their compliant use is important. If healthcare organizations engage in effective training and safeguards, risk of HIPAA breaches is reduced. Another way to avoid breaches is to have very effective HIPAA compliant communications tools adopted such as Hucu.ai.
Hucu.ai is a free HIPAA compliant instant messaging application that is built specifically for the healthcare industry.
The biggest advantage of having Hucu.ai in a healthcare organization is that it combines all three forms of communication. Hucu.ai brings together providers, patients, and families all in one place. It enables internal teams to coordinate care faster so that timely patient care can result in better outcomes. Here are some core benefits of Hucu.ai and how it improves patient care. Hucu.ai allows you to:
  • Make timely care decisions by quickly identifying and messaging all other stakeholders (facility, home health, therapy, specialists, etc.) unique to each specific patient
  • Spend more time providing care instead of trying to find who’s who in the care team and their contact information, for each specific patient
  • Organize & find all information for each specific patient (documents, DC summaries, med lists, wound photos, and more) shared by different staff from different organizations
  • Simplify admissions/discharge process from/to hospitals/snfs/home health and keep track of patients’ wellbeing in real-time – all remotely via Hucu.ai app irrespective of patients’ location – reduce hospitalizations
  • Take timely actions for higher acuity patients by empowering other collaborators to quickly flag (urgent, acute change in condition, PUI, COVID19 +VE. COVID19 -VE, and more) such patients.
If you want to ease communication in your healthcare facility, you can request a free demo from us. Contact us for more details.
Sources of information: hipaajournal
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