Posts Tagged ‘telemedicine’
In recent times we have seen a huge push toward telehealth, so many are wondering, “Is Skype HIPAA compliant?” While Skype is a practical tool that many people have access to, it’s important to consider any regulatory obligations you need to meet before you use it.
If your business collects, stores, transmits or processes electronic protected health information (ePHI), then it is subject to HIPAA regulations. Organizations that process ePHI on behalf of other parties also need to stick within the rules, otherwise they may face heavy fines.
Regardless of whether your organization provides health services through video or it uses video platforms to process ePHI in any other way, it needs to make sure it is using software that abides by the regulations.
Wondering, “Is Skype HIPAA compliant?” is a good starting point, but there are several things to consider before you commit to a video conferencing service.
Do You Need a BAA to Make Skype HIPAA Compliant?
A business associates agreement (BAA) is a contract between your organization and any others that process its data. In essence, these agreements outline how ePHI will be used, what control measures will be in place, and where the responsibilities lie between the two parties.
BAAs are absolutely necessary for HIPAA compliance. Even if your organization and its partner share ePHI with every control and security mechanism imaginable, as well as following all other aspects of the regulations, it would still be violating HIPAA if a signed BAA was not in place.
If your organization is going to be sharing ePHI over a video service, then it needs to be HIPAA-compliant.* However, the only way that it can be HIPAA compliant is if a BAA is in place.
Is Only the Business Version of Skype HIPAA Compliant?
Skype comes in several different versions, but the basic, consumer oriented one is not HIPAA compliant. The only type that offers BAAs and which could be made HIPAA compliant is Skype for Business, which is one of Microsoft Office’s business communication tools. Note that “Skype for Business” is a completely different service than consumer Skype.
However, it’s also worth noting that Skype for Business is currently being phased out in favor of Microsoft Teams. If you don’t already have a supported version of Skype for Business, you should look for HIPAA-compliant alternatives instead. Support for Skype for Business Online ends in 2021, while support for Skype for Business Server will be extended until 2025.
With this in mind, it’s probably not worthwhile pursuing any version of Skype for HIPAA compliance. If you use the basic version of Skype, you will be violating the regulations, and even if you can get Microsoft to sign a Skype for Business BAA, you may have to switch your software in 2021 anyway.
HIPAA-Compliant Alternatives to Skype
Considering that Skype for Business doesn’t have much time left and that it is not even the same as “regular Skype,” your organization will be better off finding a HIPAA-compliant alternative. One option is LuxSci’s SecureVideo, which was designed specifically to make it easy to stay within the regulations.
SecureVideo was developed from the ground up with HIPAA compliance in mind, ensuring that it became a practical video calling service that made security and compliance simple. The Zoom for Healthcare-based platform is great for telemedicine and other forms of sharing ePHI.
SecureVideo includes handy features like screen-sharing, file-sharing and virtual clinics, with a capacity of up to 100 participants. This makes LuxSci’s SecureVideo a convenient and compliant alternative to Skype.
* During the Covid-19 pandemic, HHS has waived responsibility for breaches through non-compliant video conferencing services, like Skype. So, while Skype may not be compliant, it is OK to use during the pandemic. However, as the pandemic subsides and this waiver is lifted, you should have transitioned to a service that is actually HIPAA compliant.
Updated May 2022.
The telehealth landscape has changed dramatically over the last few years. At the height of the pandemic closures in April 2021, 64% of US households reported using telehealth. 43% of Americans plan to continue using telehealth, and many healthcare providers continue to offer virtual care.
When telehealth took off, many privacy and security regulations were waived so that patients could quickly access care. Now that regulations are being re-implemented, it’s essential to examine how HIPAA regulations apply to the telehealth industry.
Remote Health Care
Remote health care, also known as telemedicine, involves providing medical services through video calls and other technologies. It can help provide care in rural communities and eliminate travel times for healthcare practitioners, increasing efficiency.
HIPAA regulations apply to all telemedicine because they involve transmitting and processing electronic protected health information (ePHI). Because of this, every communication channel used for telemedicine needs to be HIPAA-compliant, whether it is for video calls, voice calls, email, or other means.
These channels need to be encrypted to prevent attackers from intercepting ePHI, and access controls need to be in place so that only authorized persons can access the data. Several other safeguards should also be used, depending on the communication channel.
Remote Patient Monitoring
In-home monitoring has become more common in recent years because it allows healthcare practitioners to keep an eye on patients while they are in the comfort of their own homes.
This can have several benefits, such as allowing patients to be released from the hospital early, limiting the number of times that patients need to visit medical professionals for checkups, and reducing how frequently healthcare practitioners need to make visits to a patient’s home.
Despite these advantages, there are also many privacy issues. Remote patient monitoring often involves using internet-connected scales, blood pressure monitors, glucose monitors, and heart rate monitors to track vital signs.
This data needs to be sent to the healthcare professionals, which means that the very nature of the process involves the transmission of ePHI. To protect the data transmission, safeguards need to be in place at each step. These measures can include access controls, encryption, and more.
Whether or not HIPAA regulates these services will depend on their content and focus. If protective measures are required, the appropriate safeguards will vary according to the message’s delivery.
The first step is determining whether any potential healthcare communication contains ePHI. This will depend on the circumstances. If a practice administrator emails all of its patients about an update to the clinic’s hours, this is not regarded as ePHI because it does not specify any patient’s health condition, treatment, or payment details. However, if the mailing list identifies the recipient as a patient, that may imply something about their medical history.
The situation becomes even murkier if the same administrator sends an email about depression treatments to those patients who suffer from the illness. Since this is targeted at a specific group of people who have the condition, it reveals details about their health.
Identifying ePHI is not always straightforward. We recommend that health care organizations protect every communication as if it contains ePHI to be on the safe side.
Telehealth Reminder Messages
Many organizations send email and text messages to their patients to help remind them of upcoming appointments, take their medications, or refill prescriptions. Still, organizations need to be careful about the message contents and how they are sent.
If the organization’s reminders contain ePHI (and such reminders almost always do), they should only be sent over secure, HIPAA-compliant channels.
Delivering Telehealth Securely & within HIPAA Regulations
Telehealth can be beneficial for both healthcare providers and patients. For organizations offering these services, it’s essential to take security and HIPAA regulations into account. Otherwise, they could face a serious data breach or HIPAA penalties.
Keep your business and your patients safe by using a HIPAA-compliant provider like LuxSci. We have over 20 years of experience providing secure communications services to support the telehealth industry.