My cousin was married a few weeks back and I am a people watcher.  So, as you can imagine as I am watching people, something jumps out at me.  While sitting at my assigned table at the reception, I had an awesome view of the beautifully decorated room where guests sat at white linen-covered round tables with beautiful centerpieces, and a room filled with love in the air!  I love love……..oops sorry!  I drifted off a minute.

Anyway, the one thing that jumped out at me while people watching was the amount of people on their smart phones during the reception! However, they were able to tap their water glasses with their silver prompting my cousin and his bride to kiss while holding their smart phone in their other hand…. Smart phones, tablets, computers/laptops/netbooks–we love this stuff!!  If you live in Ohio, you are able to connect with a high school friend from 25 years ago who lives in Colorado, video chat with a relative in Texas, and view pictures/videos of your cousin’s kids in New Mexico!! Not only this, the technology age has improved our productivity, efficiency, multi-tasking skills, improved the speed of communication, and satisfies the hunger (addiction) for social media and gaming.

So what role does technology play in providing therapy?  You may not believe it but not only are physician offices and hospitals on electronic medical records, therapy providers are as well.  So healthcare providers across the spectrum are not only “helping people”, they are becoming semi-experts in Information Technology!  Technology might be easy for those healthcare providers who minored in computers/IT  however that may be a small portion of providers.

So what is the big deal with technology and healthcare existing together?———RISK!

Patient Health Information (PHI) is a hot topic these days.  Not only should you dispose of documents appropriately and protect patients through oral and written communication, health care providers need to also protect PHI in the world of technology.

Most of us are pretty aware of general examples of breaching PHI because the Health Information Portability and Accountability Act (HIPAA)  has been around for some time now.  Talking in public areas, talking too loudly, talking to the wrong person, lost/stolen paperwork, email or faxes sent to the wrong address/wrong person/wrong number, lost or stolen or improperly disposed of paper, mail, and notebooks are all examples of HIPAA privacy breaches.

In the technology age, HIPAA privacy breaches can occur if you have lost your computer, laptops, netbooks, tablets, smart phone, media devices, zip disks, CDs, flash/memory drives.  Hacking of unprotected computer systems can occur as well.  If a user does not log off of computer systems/devices, this will allow others to access the computer or devices.  In addition, unauthorized access to computer systems from home increase the risk as well.

Do you know text messaging is NOT HIPAA Compliant? Patient PHI or sensitive information should never be shared via text message on cell phones or other mobile devices. Text messaging is not secure and is non-compliant with the safety and privacy regulations under HIPAA.  Text messages can be read by other people besides the intended recipient, can be forwarded to other people without the sender’s knowledge or consent, and can remain unencrypted on the cellular service providers’ servers. Many cellular service providers store data logs and messages on their servers for extended period of time (years)—Did you know that??  Did you know that the text message(s) can remain on the sender’s and/or receiver’s cell phones forever even if they have sold or discontinued use of their phone?

And to top it off, the sender of the text message(s) cannot be certain that the message has been sent to and opened by the right person. Kim Pratt, Functional Pathways’ Clinical Software Specialist/HIPAA Privacy Officer has informed us that studies’ have shown that more than 40% of people have sent a text message to the wrong person!! Have you?

It is the sender’s responsibility to make sure that PHI is protected in all forms of oral and written communication.  Kim states, “A single violation for an unsecured communication can result in a fine of $50,000; repeated violations can lead to $1.5 million in fines in a single year, not to mention the reputational damage done to an organization. Text messaging patient PHI or other patient information is strictly prohibited by all Functional Pathways’ employees“.

Gina Tomcsik

Director of Compliance

Functional Pathways

gtomcsik@fprehab.com