Touchstone Compliance

Communicating with Patients via Email

Healthcare providers don’t usually think of HIPAA regulations as helping to generate more business. But in this blog, I’ll show you one very specific – and proven – way that being HIPAA-compliant can lead to greater patient satisfaction and a busier waiting room.

Communication is key

In a Stanford University study Patty and Nathan Sakunkoo analyzed the social influence of consumer reviews posted online. They came to the conclusion that “consumers making even ‘important’ choices are swayed by the star ratings of a minority online.” Another source, DoctorBase, went on to quantify the impact of good reviews received by healthcare providers, noting that a one-star rise created a 14.3% increase in appointments, while a 2-star rise resulted in 41.1% jump!
That same source also found that 4- and 5- star ratings of medical providers on social media sites “are directly correlated to the acceptance of email as a form of communication” between patients and their healthcare providers.

Not just email. Secure email.

When it comes to increasing consumer satisfaction, the case for communicating with patients via email is pretty compelling. But if your email isn’t secure, it can also be risky. Here’s why: The contents of regular email are stored and transmitted as plain text, and copies of those contents are stored, indefinitely, in a several places – your computer, your mail server, each recipient’s computer and mail server. For that reason, emails are vulnerable to unauthorized access. Encryption – now required by HIPAA — prevents that.

But in the case of email, encryption isn’t the only answer. Patients on the receiving end of your encrypted email messages won’t be able to read them unless they’ve installed on their computers, tablets, or smartphones, the same encryption software you have on yours. (Needless to say, the inconvenience of having to download and install new software just to read the appointment confirmation sent by your office could turn a 5-star rating into a 3-star rant.)

The safest solution

So what’s a Healthcare-Provider-Who-Wants-to-Communicate-with-Patients-by-Email to do? The best way to safely send emails to your patients is to use a secure messaging system from a company specializing in that. Secure messaging systems ensure HIPAA compliance for email by containing the encrypted Protected Health Information (PHI) within a virtual private network. Within a network like that, usage is centrally monitored so that it adheres to HIPAA’s mandates. Secure messaging companies handle the technicalities, so you and/or your staff can click “Send” and not worry about patient information winding up in the wrong hands.

Plus a few common-sense reminders

And to be doubly sure that an unintentional disclosure of PHI won’t happen via email:
• Always check email addresses for accuracy before sending
• Or send an email alert to the patient for address confirmation before you send your message

Let HIPAA help

Through its Privacy Rule, HIPAA calls for “the protection against unauthorized disclosure of individually identifiable health information when it is stored or sent by a covered entity.” By using a secure messaging system and communicating with your patients via email, you’ll not only be taking an important step in fulfilling HIPAA requirements, you could also be on your way to a 5-star rating and more new patients.

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