HIPAA Compliant Chat: Benefits and Best Practices


Chat apps have grown significantly in popularity, and the field of medicine is no exception. With telemedicine, patients can receive remote consultations and prescriptions, doctors can share images of X-rays with colleagues on the other side of the world in a matter of seconds, and services like mental health treatment become more easily accessible and widely available. However, to ensure that patient data is always protected, healthcare organizations must use HIPAA compliant chat apps.

Many popular chat apps are not appropriate for healthcare professionals. They’re often woefully inadequate when it comes to implementing the HIPAA pillars of data security and patient privacy. For example, while these apps may encrypt messages, they often hold a copy of the key that they use to analyze message data. This is a major red flag for HIPAA guidelines and can lead to a violation due to noncompliance.

What Is HIPAA Compliant Chat?

HIPAA stands for the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act, an act passed in 1996 to protect patients’ sensitive information. HIPAA compliant chat refers to secure digital platforms for sending and receiving text-based messages. Often, these solutions come in the form of industry-specific messaging apps with encrypted communications. Other times, healthcare organizations use a professionally designed platform that offers protected chat, video conferencing, document storage, and database services.

HIPAA compliant chat solutions let healthcare organizations and medical professionals communicate efficiently and accurately. It safeguards electronic protected health information (or PHI) while taking advantage of the flexibility and speed of modern communication technology. Doctors can use HIPAA compliant chat to share test results with a colleague or a patient. Many hospitals and clinics use HIPAA compliant chat platforms so patients can have 24/7 access to care.

Whenever PHI is included in text messages, the application must satisfy HIPAA guidelines found in the Privacy Rule and the Security Rule. PHI can consist of many things, including a patient’s name, test results, prescriptions, and past treatments. If any of the 18 identifiers appear in a text-based message, that message contains PHI. HIPAA compliant chat prevents unauthorized individuals from accessing this private information.

Benefits of HIPAA Compliant Chat

The primary reason why healthcare organizations need to implement HIPAA compliant chat is to ensure proper data protection. Any security breaches or HIPAA violations can lead to significant fines and penalties, possible charges, and lawsuits. In addition to these legal requirements, however, following HIPAA guidelines in all communications is the gold standard for medical care. Doing so unlocks the benefits of modern messaging technology:

In-app chat ensures the best patient care possible by expanding access to doctors, test results, and facilities. Likewise, they benefit hospitals, clinics, HMOs, and health insurance providers by offering increased efficiency and lower costs of care. Improved efficiency and accuracy is good for everyone involved.

Best Practices for HIPAA Compliant Patient Communication

Achieving HIPAA compliance involves both technology and people. First, in-app chat itself needs to meet HIPAA criteria, from the way messages are sent to the security checks in place to prevent tampering. Here are five essentials for HIPAA compliant chat:

Of course, technology is only as secure as the people using it. To truly follow HIPAA guidelines, healthcare organizations must train their personnel on the proper way to send, store, and share PHI. Employees need to understand the importance of following the correct sign-in protocol. And, administrators must select a communication option with built-in security settings, ones that can’t be changed by individual users.

How to Ensure Live Chat is HIPAA Compliant

Chat apps, APIs, and SDKs are powerful tools with countless benefits—when used correctly. To avoid HIPAA violations, companies must choose the right solution from day one. This means carefully considering the security and privacy features offered. HIPAA compliance isn’t an area where organizations can afford to make mistakes. 

PubNub has extensive expertise in HIPAA. With a combination of turnkey messaging options, reliable chat infrastructure, and flexible APIs, PubNub offers customized solutions for companies of any size to incorporate HIPAA compliant messaging and real-time chat into their technology stack.

All of PubNub’s APIs are fully HIPAA compliant. This way, SaaS developers can build everything from mobile chat apps to secure data platforms specifically for the medical sector. Learn more about PubNub’s digital healthcare options or talk to an expert for more information.