HIPAA Security and Your Virtual Receptionist

November 30th, 2008

There is no getting around it; every physician is required to comply with the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act standards, better known as HIPAA. This means that every piece of medical information, everything from an email address to a cancer diagnosis, needs to be secure. You should be confident that your automated appointment scheduling service is up to the challenge. Whether you are shopping for a new virtual receptionist or you have an older web-based service, as a health care professional, ultimately if the service does not adhere to HIPAA standards, you are the one held at fault.

Although HIPAA standards were implemented to allow patients more access to their medical information, the standards for keeping medical information private and secure increased. At the same time the penalties for violating these standards were augmented and enforcement efforts were heightened. Today, all health care providers are responsible for protecting that all patient information whether it is a chart left on a counter or data including in an appointment scheduler.

Many virtual medical office receptionist services on the market will save you time and money by freeing up staff from mundane tasks. Some can perform self-service patient appointment scheduling, act as an automated appointment reminder and handle web-based doctor appointment scheduling. Pretty cool stuff, right? But with all of this is useless to modern medical practice if a patient’s privacy is not kept safe.

Potential threats of disclosure are very real and dangerous possibilities when using the internet to relay any private information. Every medical practice, regardless of size, must make sure all their patients’ identifiable information is secure at all times, and that includes what is online. This is why your virtual medical office receptionist service must be on guard against unauthorized privacy breaches or erroneous email deliveries.

Many internet users now prefer to do most of their personal business online, and those patients expect easy communication with their doctor’s office on the web. These computer savvy patients realize that they can demand a 24/7 medical answering service, online medical scheduling and automated email appointment reminders, all without speaking to anyone and from the privacy of their computers.

Self-service patient appointment scheduling and other online services are becoming a part of medical office support much like the move to an electronic medical record. The increased efficiency and convenience for both office operations and patients argue that these systems are here to stay. While staff and patients rave about these systems, your responsibility is to choose a 24/7 medical reception service that has built-in security and is fully HIPAA compliant. Your virtual receptionist service must be enabled to secure patient privacy in all its stored or electronically transmitted features.

So no matter what automated appointment scheduling program you decide to use, it must include standard HIPAA abuse and privacy protections. The service should also allow you or authorized staff to program access controls for each patient. Make sure the Virtual Medical Receptionist you already have affords total information protection. If it does not, you will need to replace it immediately. Your staff may need to be reminded of HIPAA compliance procedures from time to time, but the right remote receptionist service will always “remember.”

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