Digitally Protecting Patient Information
- Sixty-six percent of executives believe digital health innovations are unclear.
- Digital technologies help healthcare providers protect and secure patient information.
- Real-time verification of patient demographic and insurance information supports compliance.
- Avoid delays using technologies enabling patients to sign consent forms.
- Cloud solutions offer added protection against medical data theft.
By Eric Anderson
Digital healthcare technologies, like those powered by Artificial Intelligence (AI), are transforming patient-provider interactions—and 66 percent of healthcare executives believe some of these innovations fall into a gray area of regulatory compliance.1
The trends extend even beyond that of telemedicine, smartphone applications and wearable technology. Today, virtual assistants like Amazon’s Alexa not only answer consumers’ health questions, but have also been trained by the American Heart Association (AHA) to recite instructions for CPR in an instant. Meanwhile, according to a recent survey, 63 percent of healthcare organizations now use cloud-based clinical applications due to the need for scalable, flexible and reliable infrastructure solutions.2
As an increasing amount of patient information is processed digitally, healthcare providers face new challenges and opportunities related to compliance. Here are five ways healthcare organizations can better protect the security of patient information using digital technologies.
Eliminate paper-based processes. A recent HIMSS survey shows 90 percent of clinicians still use paper-based documentation3, and most front offices still rely on paper-based check-in. This puts patients at risk for identity theft, especially when papers are left unattended at the front desk. It also presents issues related to HIPAA compliance.
Technologies that support digital check-in enhance security of patient information by capturing the information electronically, limiting the number of people who touch or view patients’ personal data. Often, the information is entered by patients themselves in a waiting room or in some instances, from their home via their mobile device. Some models automatically update changes to patient information in the organization’s electronic health record (EHR), eliminating the need for manual updates by front-desk staff. This further protects the privacy and security of sensitive patient information.
Verify patient information in real time. It’s not uncommon for patients to make a mistake while providing personal information to front-desk staff, whether by hand or electronically. Transcription errors further exacerbate the problem as staff attempts to read and type in data from paper forms. Advanced technologies that verify patient demographic and insurance information with third party sources, and allow patients to correct data at the point of check-in vastly improve data accuracy. Such technologies also ensure the right patient is matched with the right medical record throughout the continuum of care, supporting best practices for verifying patient identity under HIPAA. In addition, they can raise a red flag for front-desk staff when the identity of the patient may be in question.
Enable patients to sign consent forms electronically. A study published in JAMA Surgery found 66 percent of scheduled surgeries are missing a critical consent form or final approvals—and 14 percent of surgeries are delayed4 because of this. Technologies that support electronic signing of necessary consent forms provide the following advantages:
- Forms are stored in the patient’s electronic medical record (EMR).
- Time and date of signing is automatically captured in accordance with compliance requirements.
- Electronic access to consent forms ensures patients are signing the most up-to-date forms.
- Forms are automatically populated with patient-specific information and the risks associated with the patient’s procedure or service, further supporting compliance.
Communicate with patients securely—and improve their compliance with treatment regimens. Some of the most exciting advancements in digital health are those that improve patient compliance with treatment regimens and medication adherence by enhancing communication between providers and patients. For example, tuberculosis patients in three California counties use a medication management app provided by public health officials to remind them to take their medications. One company has even developed facial-recognition technology that documents medication has been taken.
In a consumer-driven healthcare environment, digital tools that enable providers to securely and instantly communicate outside the traditional care setting offer the ability to protect patient information while supporting improved outcomes. When weighing the benefits of such technologies, look for HIPAA-compliant service providers, and carefully consider the types of information that will be exchanged between patients and providers. It’s also important to obtain informed consent from patients prior to taking a digital communications approach.
Add an extra layer of protection with cloud-based security and backup. Healthcare cybersecurity attacks are on the rise, yet three out of four hospitals do not have a designated IT security person on staff, according to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS).5 Cloud solutions offer added protection against medical data theft by providing access to the latest IT security applications as well as advanced options for data backup and recovery. They feature encryption technology that protect data in transit and at rest. It’s an approach HHS is adopting at a quicker pace, with plans to move 41 percent of its data to the cloud by the end of 2017.6
Supporting Compliance in a Digital-Tech World
As digital technology extends providers’ capabilities to capture sensitive patient information and communicate with patients, responding with agility includes ensuring patient medical information is securely protected throughout the continuum of care. Advanced technologies such as these support HIPAA compliance while providing greater convenience for patients and increased efficiency for patients.
- “Digital Health Technology Vision 2017: Technology for People,” Accenture Consulting, 2017
- “Embracing the Cloud: Survey Looks at Cloud Landscape in 2017,” Healthcare IT News, June 8, 2017, https://www.healthcareitnews.com/
- “All In: Moving from EHR Adoption to Implementation,” HIMSS Analytics, February 2017
- “Missing Consent Forms in the Perioperative Area,” JAMA Surgery, September 2013
- “Healthcare is facing a security staffing crisis, HHS says,” Healthcare IT News, May 19, 2017, http://www.healthcareitnews.com/news/healthcare-facing-security-staffing-crisis-hhs-says.
- “HHS Goes from Reluctant to Eager Cloud Adopter,” Federal News Radio, March 24, 2017, https://federalnewsradio.com/ask-the-cio/2017/03/hhs-goes-reluctant-eager-cloud-adopter/.