Health Information Management

Getting the message: Evaluating and using secure email and text messaging

Briefings on HIPAA, March 1, 2016

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To find the right solution for your organization, you must understand how and why employees are using messaging and email services.

"You want a solution that's easy to use, and that's within the work environment of whoever is sending the message," Apgar says. Apgar's case in point is Oregon's state-sponsored CareAccord Direct Secure Messaging email service. The service doesn't connect to all EHRs or an organization's email service. Users have to log in through the website to send a message. Busy employees, he points out, particularly clinical staff like physicians, are unlikely to use a service that requires them to go out of their way, making it a poor choice.

Text messaging solutions directed at the healthcare industry were not always common and user friendly. Until about a year ago, there were few mature products on the market for securing text messages, Apgar says. The ones that did provide good security had serious usability limitations as most could only be used to communicate with other people in your network. A specialist, Apgar says, wouldn't have been able to send a quick, secure text to his or her patient's primary care doctor if the doctor was not part of the specialist's organization. Some services, like Tiger Text and HipaaChat, offer a solution to this problem. (See the March 2015 issue of BOH for more information about Tiger Text.) If the sender uses Tiger Text, but the recipient does not, Tiger Text delivers a text message that includes a link to the now encrypted text message. When the recipient clicks the link, the browser on the mobile device opens up to the text message, which is encrypted at a National Institute of Standards and Technology standard 256-bit encryption.

Keep in mind, however, that you have to treat text messaging the same as email. Device security and storage need to be analyzed. Burton warns that some may not realize the text messages on their phones leave traces of data behind.

Apgar agrees. "They don't understand that ultimately the cell phone carrier has servers that back up your texts, and you have it [stored] on your phone," he says.

This is an excerpt from a member only article. To read the article in its entirety, please login or subscribe to Briefings on HIPAA.

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