What You Need to Know About HIPAA Compliant Live Chat

Updated October 12, 2023

If you’re a business owner in the healthcare industry, you have a lot resting on your shoulders. On top of the “normal” concerns like hiring, managing employees, marketing and budget, you also have to ensure patient safety and privacy. There’s a good chance you will be messaging patients soon if you haven’t started yet. In fact, 89 percent of people would like to use messaging to communicate with businesses. However, only 48 percent of businesses are equipped to do so, according to Twilio. There’s a gap there that medical providers can take advantage of to capture more leads than the competition.

When choosing a live chat solution, not just any will do. You need to partner with a vendor that understands the importance of data security and offers HIPAA-compliant live chat.

HIPAA-compliant Live Chat Defined

The Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act of 1996 mandates that healthcare providers handle their patients’ protected health information (PHI) in a confidential manner. The California Department of Health Care Services explained that HIPAA regulations apply to all communications, whether oral, written or electronic.

Typically, when a live chat session concludes, the system saves the chat transcript automatically. Customers can choose to email the transcript to any email address, and chat agents are able to do the same. Any live chat employee with a password to access the platform can log in and look up past chats. When PHI enters into the mix, this becomes a huge problem.

The Joint Commission outlined requirements for protecting sensitive patient PHI:

Audit controls: Your messaging solution should be capable of creating and recording an audit trail of all interactions containing ePHI. Any chat service that archives conversations and provides transcripts of all chats- not just the ones that result in leads – will probably meet this requirement.

Encryption: The solution should encrypt all messages while in transit and at rest.

Secure data centers: Data centers containing ePHI should feature a “high level of physical security.” The centers should also have policies for reviewing controls and should regularly oversee risk assessment procedures.

Recipient authentication: Any messages that contain ePHI should go to the intended recipient and the intended recipient only. If those communications end up in someone else’s hands that represents a HIPAA violation. Solutions should ensure messages are sent to the correct individual.

Adhering to these requirements keeps you compliant and prevents patients from having their privacy violated. They also protect PHI against data breaches and cyber attacks.

Some live chat vendors don’t offer these security measures. Others have you complete a series of steps to customize your settings to become HIPAA-compliant. For example, LiveChat asks its users to disable customer permissions to email chat transcripts to any email address. But when a chat provider tasks its users with the responsibility of ensuring that live chat is HIPAA-compliant, they open them up to risk. All it takes is one error to land you in hot water.

Partner with a live chat service that features built-in HIPAA-compliant security measures. Not only is this easier, but it also saves you time and reduces your risk of failing to comply with regulations.

Make sure your live chat solution checks all the boxes for HIPAA compliance.

Finding a Secure Messaging Solution

Regarding SMS, The Joint Commission has already made the decision for you: It’s not secure and may lead to a violation of HIPAA. When it comes to your patients’ native texting apps there’s no such thing as HIPAA compliant text messaging.

However, that doesn’t mean you should abandon messaging altogether. There are secure solutions available that provide HIPAA-compliant messaging to ensure private medical discussions.

Some live chat services are built with HIPAA-compliant security measures in place. ApexChat, for example, provides a fully HIPAA-compliant chat service that keeps prospects’ and patients’ private health information secure. These security standards include encrypting patient information, operating through HTTPS websites and more to ensure information exchanged across the chat platform is safe at all times. Using a solution such as Blazeo (formerly ApexChat) is much more secure than messaging with your mobile device’s native SMS app.

With a live chat solution that secures information from any covered entity or business, you can connect with prospective patients on their preferred channel without risking a security breach. It may not be text messaging, but prospective patients can still begin chats from your mobile website. And the best part is, if your live chat provider complies with HIPAA you won’t have to worry about information breaches.

The penalties for HIPAA violations can be substantial.
The penalties for HIPAA violations can be substantial.

The Steep Price of Failing to Ensure HIPAA Compliance

Healthcare organizations—even small businesses—that don’t comply with HIPAA face steep fines and penalties. For example, Filefax was ordered to pay $100,000 after violating HIPAA by accidentally disclosing 2,150 patients’ PHI, according to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. Filefax’s assets were liquidated and it’s now defunct.

Businesses who violate HIPAA could also face civil and criminal penalties, as the American Medical Association noted. It doesn’t matter whether or not you were aware of your mistake. Ignorance is not a defense in the court of law.

“The careless handling of PHI is never acceptable,” said Roger Severino, director of the HHS Office for Civil Rights. “Covered entities and business associates need to be aware that OCR is committed to enforcing HIPAA regardless of whether a covered entity is opening its doors or closing them. HIPAA still applies.”

Be Compliant Across Devices

More and more, customers are relying on mobile devices over desktop and laptop computers. Because of this, many live chat providers offer text-to-chat capabilities that integrate with users’ preferred mobile messaging apps.

Some live chat providers allow integration with HIPAA-compliant mobile messaging apps. This way you can rest assured that your text-based communications are secure as well.