As a recent report issued by the U.S. Government Accountability Office (GAO) emphasizes, when it comes to the ongoing digitalization of America’s healthcare system, a not-insignificant number of facilities and patients are being left behind.
Discussing the accessibility (or lack thereof) patients have to their electronic medical records (EMR), the report also reveals some important underlying factors that have left many facilities unable to deal with both the transition to EMR and compliance with HIPAA.
Also known as the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act, HIPAA is the 1996 federal law defining data privacy and security protocols for the handling of EMR and personal health information (PHI). Among its many provisions is the requirement that patients be granted access to their medical records upon request.
But retrieving those records can be a difficult process, since they often exist within a system that’s been haphazardly, incompletely, or even improperly implemented. (Indeed, the “functionality of many EMR systems is patchwork in nature” for a good portion of rural hospitals, as Healthcare IT News reported last year.)
In an analysis of the GAO report, Xtelligent Healthcare Media’s Fred Donovan defines some of the areas in which facilities are struggling to comply with HIPAA’s EMR rules. The facilities themselves cite the “high costs in responding to patient record requests because of staff time, records being in multiple places and formats, and other challenges.”
The GAO report goes into even more detail on these organizational difficulties, noting that “providers often have multiple active EHR systems, or have legacy EHR systems in which some medical records are stored,” requiring “providers and their vendors to go through multiple EHR systems to extract information in response to a medical record request.” (EHR is a synonym for EMR.)
Improving Compliance with HIPAA: The Telehealth Option
Make no mistake, though: Regardless of the difficulties faced by some facilities, the evolution to EMR will continue. And achieving and sustaining compliance with HIPAA in the face of this ongoing transition means shoring up existing inefficiencies and working toward a unified system of EMR data integration.
Customized telehealth services are uniquely poised to help solve this program. By offering a platform that’s designed to be integrated into each facility’s unique workflows — whether digital or non-digital — telehealth services can help make the transition to digital care more efficient, painless, patient friendly and HIPAA compliant for facilities of all types.
“Telemedicine offers an enormous opportunity for healthcare organizations to lower overhead while offering patients the kind of access to care they want by embracing a more remote model,” as Brady Ranum points out for HIT Consultant Media.
But “to do this successfully, securely and in compliance with today’s (and tomorrow’s) standards, organizations can’t blindly move forward, putting any technology and solution provider in place,” he adds. “When evaluating new technology services to enable telemedicine, covered entities should seek out providers that specialize in HIPAA compliance and offer a verified compliant solution.”
Leading telehealth vendors like Care Innovations® work hard to meet these important criteria, carefully ensuring that every aspect of a telehealth network is secure at every level. Particularly for organizations struggling with EMR, the built-in compliance offered by such companies can go far toward not only achieving HIPAA compliance but also streamlining patient data into a single, secure flow.
“A Safe Environment That's 100% HIPAA Compliant”
Ranum goes on to explain why HIPAA’s security considerations are so important — and elusive.
“While patients may be comfortable communicating with care givers via text, email and video, these tools aren’t inherently HIPAA compliant (because the transmission isn’t encrypted), leaving the healthcare organization and its business associates open to a data breach and HIPAA violation,” he notes.
Telehealth programs like Health Harmony from Care Innovations can help solve this problem by providing patients and clinicians with devices that encrypt all communications and data. Stylish and easy to use, they’re designed to resemble the tablets and smartphones used by the vast majority of Americans today.
“The patient's name, address, anything identifiable to that patient aside from their first name, is never stored on a device,” explains Care Innovations Chief Financial Officer Bryan Pruden. “On our back end, all the information is encrypted — it's encrypted at rest, and encrypted when it's in transit,” he adds. “That creates a safe environment that's 100% HIPAA compliant."
“We follow the design patterns at Care Innovations of security by design, which means data security is built in,” adds Chief Information Officer Himanshu Shah. “We do a lot of PEN testing, security testing, [and] other testing to ensure the platform and the systems are secured.”
In addition to achieving better HIPAA compliance, customized telehealth services can also help facilities experience some of the well-known advantages of telehealth implementation — benefits that can include:
- Lowering operational costs
- Helping to improve patient care (especially post-discharge)
- Reducing the risk of hospital readmission penalties
Interested in learning more about how telehealth can help your organization improve EMR management and achieve HIPAA compliance? Contact us here to schedule a complimentary consultation with a Care Innovations telehealth expert.