Considerations for Optimizing Patient-Provider Messaging Systems

Miles Oliver

Major advancements in technology over the past couple of decades have completely altered the way in which we communicate as a society. Today, we expect all our communications to be fast, simple, and easy to access regardless of the device we’re using. Anything else is a nuisance that is behind the times.

Although advancements in technology are making communication more effective in many realms, they also make it substantially more complex in others. For instance, patient communication with healthcare facilities. Many healthcare providers are striving to keep up with communication advancements, but struggle to ensure that patient data is adequately protected as is required by law.

Developing the tools and platforms necessary to ensure these communications are safe and effective is a real challenge. However, it’s nearly impossible to overstate the benefits of optimizing these systems to make them as useful as they can be. Successful operation and integration can open new doors in effective doctor-patient communication and pave the way for an increase in positive health outcomes all around.

What Is HIPAA-Compliant Messaging?

Perhaps the most substantial piece of legislation associated with patient data is HIPAA. The act seeks to protect patient information from all except healthcare professionals, patients, and those authorized by patients to see the information. From a communications platform perspective, this can pose a real challenge as all messaging must be protected in order to be HIPAA compliant.

In general, standard text messaging services are not HIPAA compliant, there are simply too many ways in which personal health information can be intercepted and viewed. Although there are a few instances when text messaging may be permissible, such as immediately after an emergency or natural disaster, it is not the norm. Instead, many IT professionals have turned to encrypted, HIPAA-compliant apps to get the job done.

Many of these apps work similarly to other popular messaging apps such as Facebook Messenger or WhatsApp, however, the data sent between healthcare providers and patients is much better protected. Some of them even support voice messaging, which is another huge advancement. Of course, this doesn’t solve all of the issues with patients having an open line of communication with their healthcare providers, but it certainly is a step in the right direction.

Considerations for Record Transfer and Telehealth Services

Developing a platform that can be all-encompassing for communications between healthcare providers and patients goes beyond messaging. HIPAA compliance also comes into play during telehealth meetings and during records transfers. Again, advancements in technology have led many to think this process should be easier, but ensuring secure data poses a number of challenges to actually making it so.

One of the biggest challenges is making sure that all healthcare providers are working on and through secured devices. Far too many doctors and nurses use personal devices to record data and track activities throughout their day, which can pose a significant security problem. Without proper cybersecurity software installed, these systems are vulnerable to hacking or hundreds of other cybersecurity threats that many people don’t expect or see coming until it is too late.

Today, sharing patient data between providers is still a considerable challenge. This is especially true with the adoption of remote workplaces that have become more prevalent since the COVID-19 pandemic. Now there are multiple devices that may be outside of the network that must be secured and encrypted. The development of safe tunnels to create a private connection between two networks is becoming more and more common.

Training Practitioners Is Key

Regardless of how much IT training and experience goes into setting up a secure system for a healthcare network, it is only as good as the people who are going to be using it. Unfortunately, the vast majority of people don’t even begin to understand the ins and outs of cybersecurity and why it would be valuable for them in their day-to-day lives. This can ultimately lead to a failure to enact cybersecurity policies properly or a blatant disregard for them altogether.

Driving home the importance of good cybersecurity practices like passwords and logging off the computer when it is in use is imperative to a system that adequately protects patient data. It means pulling doctors, nurses, and all the administrative staff away from their day-to-day work and into an on-the-job training session about how they need to operate within the network and why this is critical.

Beyond that, considerations for the patient’s end of the system are also important. This doesn’t necessarily mean that all patients need their devices encrypted and protected as well, just that they understand why they need to take steps to protect their devices. Simple educational flyers or a quick word on using the software and app from the providers or administrative staff they have face time with can make a big difference in the long run.

Broadly, people desperately need a greater understanding of the challenges and requirements of the IT and cybersecurity sectors. The vast majority of people using technology today only have a very basic understanding of all the work that goes into securing and protecting their devices and information. Efforts to increase this knowledge in places where it is particularly important — such as in healthcare fields where private information is handled regularly — are highly valuable.

Developing a platform to optimize patient-provider messaging systems is not a simple task. All tools utilized in the platform need to be HIPAA compliant and still provide the ease of use that many of us have come to expect in all our daily interactions with technology. Some of the other expected tools such as telehealth services and patient data transfer add a greater level of complexity to the system.

Ultimately, once a system is set up, a good plan for educating the system’s users is also essential to guarantee that everything runs smoothly. It isn’t necessarily easy work, but it can make a very real and valuable difference in the lives of the people who will use it over the years.

Miles Oliver

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