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Risk Insider: Allan Ridings

Do You Know if Your Electronic Communications are HIPAA Secure?

By: | August 19, 2014 • 2 min read
Allan Ridings is a senior risk management & patient safety specialist at the Cooperative of American Physicians, Inc. He has more than 25 years of experience in risk management and health care operations. He can be reached at [email protected]

As ubiquitous as text messaging is, many wonder why doctors can’t freely text with their patients. But regulators are clear on this. Text messaging is too vulnerable to information theft to be used unguarded in provider-patient communication.

The responsibility to secure medical information is clearly outlined and enforced by the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act or HIPAA.

In order to manage the risk of new forms of electronic communication, there are specific rules for health care professionals to follow when using text messaging and email as provided by the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services Office for Civil Rights (ORC).

Below are best practices regarding electronic messaging of patient information.

What’s the importance of security and encryption in relation to text messaging in health care?

The Joint Commission states that in addition to its violations of HIPAA, unencrypted text messaging provides no way to verify the identity of the person sending the message or to retain the information sent and validate it as part of the medical record.

What is unencrypted text messaging?

Traditional Short Messaging Service (SMS) messaging is transmitted over non-secure and noncompliant networks. The majority of traditional SMS messages are delivered as mobile phone to mobile phone messages; however SMS messages are also delivered via other electronic technologies, which also fall under HIPAA governance:

• Email to mobile phone number

• Mobile number to an email address

• Phone number to alphanumeric pager

• Email to alphanumeric pager

So how do medical professionals text or email information to and from colleagues and patients in a secured encrypted network?

HIPAA requires that a covered entity be in accordance with §164.306 and implement a mechanism to encrypt and decrypt electronic protected health information. (45 CFR § 164.312(a) (2) (iv)). It is also required to implement the Advanced Encryption Standard (AES) encryption protocol system with either 128-bit or 256-bit encryption.

Your company or office IT and telecommunications department needs to ensure compliance with the above encryption standards.

What are the benefits of these encrypted / secured services?

Once the physician or medical office has implemented an encrypted mechanism, the sending and receiving of instant information, patient health issues, reports, and referrals as well as communicating with peers, will all be transmitted in secure, protected environments.

Are there any limits when using SMS?

Yes, there is a strict limit of 160 on the number of characters allowed to be sent. Only the first 160 characters will be sent from an email message to a mobile phone and from a mobile phone to an email user. To avoid misunderstandings, it is recommended that caregivers use approved abbreviations when communicating peer-to-peer.

Does your IT department need to make changes to your smart phones or devices?

Yes, your IT team must enable remote access capabilities on your smart phone, so that you can erase (scrub) all the data from it if it is lost or stolen; and you must keep a record of this loss or theft of your smart phone for auditing purposes.

More from Risk & Insurance

More from Risk & Insurance

Risk Management

The Profession: Curt Gross

This director of risk management sees cyber, IP and reputation risks as evolving threats, but more formal education may make emerging risk professionals better prepared.
By: | June 1, 2018 • 4 min read

R&I: What was your first job?

My first non-professional job was working at Burger King in high school. I learned some valuable life lessons there.

R&I: How did you come to work in risk management?

After taking some accounting classes in high school, I originally thought I wanted to be an accountant. After working on a few Widgets Inc. projects in college, I figured out that wasn’t what I really wanted to do. Risk management found me. The rest is history. Looking back, I am pleased with how things worked out.

R&I: What is the risk management community doing right?

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I think we do a nice job on post graduate education. I think the ARM and CPCU designations give credibility to the profession. Plus, formal college risk management degrees are becoming more popular these days. I know The University of Akron just launched a new risk management bachelor’s program in the fall of 2017 within the business school.

R&I: What could the risk management community be doing a better job of?

I think we could do a better job with streamlining certificates of insurance or, better yet, evaluating if they are even necessary. It just seems to me that there is a significant amount of time and expense around generating certificates. There has to be a more efficient way.

R&I: What was the best location and year for the RIMS conference and why?

Selfishly, I prefer a destination with a direct flight when possible. RIMS does a nice job of selecting various locations throughout the country. It is a big job to successfully pull off a conference of that size.

Curt Gross, Director of Risk Management, Parker Hannifin Corp.

R&I: What’s been the biggest change in the risk management and insurance industry since you’ve been in it?

Definitely the change in nontraditional property & casualty exposures such as intellectual property and reputational risk. Those exposures existed way back when but in different ways. As computer networks become more and more connected and news travels at a more rapid pace, it just amplifies these types of exposures. Sometimes we have to think like the perpetrator, which can be difficult to do.

R&I: What emerging commercial risk most concerns you?

I hate to sound cliché — it’s quite the buzz these days — but I would have to say cyber. It’s such a complex risk involving nontraditional players and motives. Definitely a challenging exposure to get your arms around. Unfortunately, I don’t think we’ll really know the true exposure until there is more claim development.

R&I: What insurance carrier do you have the highest opinion of?

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Our captive insurance company. I’ve been fortunate to work for several companies with a captive, each one with a different operating objective. I view a captive as an essential tool for a successful risk management program.

R&I: Who is your mentor and why?

I can’t point to just one. I have and continue to be lucky to work for really good managers throughout my career. Each one has taken the time and interest to develop me as a professional. I certainly haven’t arrived yet and welcome feedback to continue to try to be the best I can be every day.

R&I: What have you accomplished that you are proudest of?

I would like to think I have and continue to bring meaningful value to my company. However, I would have to say my family is my proudest accomplishment.

R&I: What is your favorite book or movie?

Favorite movie is definitely “Good Will Hunting.”

R&I: What’s the best restaurant you’ve ever eaten at?

Tough question to narrow down. If my wife ran a restaurant, it would be hers. We try to have dinner as a family as much as possible. If I had to pick one restaurant though, I would say Fire Food & Drink in Cleveland, Ohio. Chef Katz is a culinary genius.

R&I: What is the most unusual/interesting place you have ever visited?

The Grand Canyon. It is just so vast. A close second is Stonehenge.

R&I: What is the riskiest activity you ever engaged in?

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A few, actually. Up until a few years ago, I owned a sport bike (motorcycle). Of course, I wore the proper gear, took a safety course and read a motorcycle safety book. Also, I have taken a few laps in a NASCAR [race car] around Daytona International Speedway at 180 mph. Most recently, trying to ride my daughter’s skateboard.

R&I: If the world has a modern hero, who is it and why?

The Dalai Lama. A world full of compassion, tolerance and patience and free of discrimination, racism and violence, while perhaps idealistic, sounds like a wonderful place to me.

R&I: What about this work do you find the most fulfilling or rewarding?

I really enjoy the company I work for and my role, because I get the opportunity to work with various functions. For example, while mostly finance, I get to interact with legal, human resources, employee health and safety, to name a few.

R&I: What do your friends and family think you do?

I asked my son. He said, “Risk management and insurance.” (He’s had the benefit of bring-your-kid-to-work day.)

Katie Dwyer is an associate editor at Risk & Insurance®. She can be reached at [email protected]