September 2016
Volume 7, Issue 9

HIPAA Secure Digital Messaging

All dental professionals are aware of the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act (HIPAA) and the ensuing problems that one can incur when transferring patient-sensitive data electronically to dental team members. The problem becomes especially acute for dental professionals whose offices are scattered across the country yet who need to collaborate with each other on a difficult or complex case. Often they find themselves doing so on handheld digital communication devices, which until now had no HIPAA compliance platform. Finally, however, application technology is catching up with the modern digital communication age.

New HIPAA-compliant texting applications are now available for iPhone and Android health care users. One, developed by Awrel (awrel.com) with input from dental professionals, offers a dental-specific application for dentists, specialists, and laboratory professionals to ensure secure information exchange.

Lee Culp, CDT, CEO of Sculpture Studios in Morrisville, North Carolina, was one of the first beta testers of this smartphone application and now he and most of his clients are using it for secure communication.

“As electronic transmission of data has evolved in health care, HIPAA compliance is becoming one of dentistry’s most important concerns,” Culp says. “Today’s patients are becoming very aware of health care privacy requirements and until now the dental profession has not been a major focus of HIPAA.”

However, as dental practices and dental laboratories rely more heavily on web-based and mobile technologies for communication, Culp says they face increased risk when dentists and dental technicians send demographic information, clinical details, or images of a patient via a cell phone or email.

“They run the risk of an investigation and could be fined for not complying with HIPAA requirements,” he says.

Awrel meets these needs, with a familiar texting protocol, and allows HIPAA-compliant communication, with texts, photos, and video.

According to recent research by the HHS Office for Civil Rights and Patient Privacy, health care professionals must ask themselves two questions to determine if software or applications are HIPAA-compliant.

1. Who will be using the downloaded app?
2. What information will be stored/shared/viewed on the app?

HIPAA rules apply to information that identifies an individual and his or her health state—physical or mental—as well as the health care services provided to the patient or payment for services.1

References

1. Healthcare iPhone apps meet HIPAA Compliance. Michigan Labs blog. http://michiganlabs.com/health-care-iphone-apps-meet-hipaa-compliance/#.VlrXPOYrJeB. Accessed June 10, 2016.

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