The medical industry requires a great deal of sensitivity from employees. Healthcare professionals are often privy to the most difficult moments of their patients’ lives. Even in medical fields that are not life and death, the handling of patient data requires compassion and a commitment to privacy. As more and more practices outsource their administrative duties to medical answering services, it’s important to ensure that patient information is handled with care. This isn’t just the right thing to do; in fact, the law demands it.
Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act
The Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act, or HIPAA, was passed in 1996. The act forever changed the way health information is handled by those in the healthcare industry and by associated service providers. When searching for a HIPAA compliant answering service, it’s important to bear in mind that all healthcare-related service providers must comply with the same set of rules and regulations that doctor’s offices and hospitals follow. When an answering service takes a message, for example, the details must be protected in the same way they would be as if they were stored in a medical office.
A HIPAA compliant medical answering service should thoroughly train employees on these privacy regulations. Because customer service agents are required to inform callers about the way their personal data will be used in the context of the call, it’s important for all employees to fully understand the laws behind such rules. Answering services are also required to keep patient information secure by encrypting data and limiting access. Continued monitoring of calls must be undertaken to ensure HIPAA compliance.
There’s no denying the benefits of a medical answering service. Ensuring that your patients will always have a friendly voice on the other end of the line to connect with is a goal all offices should strive towards. It is essential, though, that these communications are carefully protected and HIPAA compliant. There are several red flags to look out for when trying to determine if your answering service is indeed compliant.
One of the most obvious signs that a service is actually not HIPAA compliant is the use of the term HIPAA certified. Many answering services uses this phrase to sell themselves to clients, but there is no such thing as a HIPAA certification. Any company that claims to be HIPAA Certified is obviously unfamiliar with what HIPAA stands for and how to provide compliant services.
Another sign that a healthcare answering service isn’t HIPAA compliant? If they send text messages with patient information in the body, chances are good that they are not actually complying with regulations. While some services offer secure text messaging applications to ensure data is protected, most texts are unencrypted and leave patient information vulnerable. Similarly, unencrypted email messages containing patient data can also be a red flag that a company is not following HIPAA requirements. While pagers have fallen out of popularity in the mainstream, doctors still use these devices to receive information about their patients. If your answering service is sending patient data over such devices, though, HIPAA compliance may be suspect.
As mentioned above, HIPAA training programs for employees are highly necessary when dealing with sensitive healthcare information. If your answering service does not have such a program, they may not actually be HIPAA compliant. Ask to see a copy of the service’s HIPAA training program, or ask about how much training their agents receive (it should be an on-going program). If they fail to produce details or don’t answer well enough, you may need to hunt for a replacement medical answering service.
Protect Your Patients
Penalties for HIPAA violation can range from a basic $100 charge for a simple mistake all the way up through $50,000 for cases of uncorrected willful neglect. A failure to comply with HIPAA regulations can even result in criminal penalties should the Department of Justice get involved. Being punished for a violation won’t just cost you the amount of the fine either. Patients will consider switching providers if they don’t feel comfortable with your dedication to keeping their information protected. It’s simply not worth the risk to hire an answering service that isn’t HIPAA compliant.
Beyond the financial and legal consequences of HIPAA failures, there are the rights of your patients to consider. They entrust you and your staff with sensitive medical information, and in return, you treat them with respect, kindness and concern. Because a person’s medical data is an extension of themselves, you owe it to each patient to fiercely protect their information. It’s not just a legal issue, it’s a moral obligation.
If you’re concerned that your healthcare answering service is not HIPAA compliant, we can help. MAP Communications offers medical answering service and healthcare call center solutions for practices big and small. Rest assured that your patients are in good hands with MAP, one of the leading answering services in the industry. If you’re eager to make the switch and get started, begin your free trial today.