In an effort to increase access to remote medical services during the Coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic, the Office of Civil Rights (OCR) has recently announced that they will exercise enforcement discretion and will not impose penalties for noncompliance with the regulatory requirements of HIPAA Rules against covered health care providers in connection with the good faith provision of telehealth. In this announcement, they specified:
Under this Notice, covered health care providers may use popular applications that allow for video chats, including Apple FaceTime, Facebook Messenger video chat, Google Hangouts video, or Skype, to provide telehealth without risk that OCR might seek to impose a penalty for noncompliance with the HIPAA Rules related to the good faith provision of telehealth during the COVID-19 nationwide public health emergency. Providers are encouraged to notify patients that these third-party applications potentially introduce privacy risks, and providers should enable all available encryption and privacy modes when using such applications.
They also noted that public facing platforms like Facebook Live, Twitch, TikTok should not be used as a means of telehealth care provision.
Although the OCR has temporarily lifted regulations regarding HIPAA-compliance and telehealth platforms, it is still best practice to use a HIPAA secure telehealth platform to deliver mental health care to your clients. The privacy and comfort of your clients is always a top priority, and using non-HIPAA compliant telehealth platforms will still diminish the privacy of your care even if it is temporarily acceptable by the OCR.
6 Reasons To Use A HIPAA-Compliant Telehealth Platform
1. Protecting Client Privacy
Protecting clients is always the number one priority. If your client’s private health information is compromised due to using a non-HIPAA compliant telehealth platform, the consequences for your client are still the same even if you do not get fined. Private health information that is compromised may result in economic harm, embarrassment, or discrimination for the client. Information about mental health, especially, may be private information your clients want to keep close at hand. Medical information can be multiple times more valuable than a person’s credit card number on the black market.
Under the temporary lifting of restrictions summarized above, the clinician would not be punished for the breach, but the clinician would still be endangering the client’s private health information if they do not take the strictest measures to ensure security and privacy while using telehealth. The OCR announcement is relaxing penalties, but it is not recommending non-HIPAA compliant technologies. It even includes the caveat: “Providers are encouraged to notify patients that these third-party applications potentially introduce privacy risks, and providers should enable all available encryption and privacy modes when using such applications.”
2. Keeping Clients Comfortable
Clients will be put at ease if they see that your telehealth platform is credible and HIPAA-secure. It’s very important for clients to be able to trust your telehealth platform and the care that you will be providing them via telehealth. As with any patient relationship, trust must be established and maintained over time. Practicing care over a secure, HIPAA-compliant telehealth platform will ensure patients of your credibility and professionalism as well as their own privacy, autonomy, and dignity during treatment.
3. Insurance Company Requirements
The lifting of penalties for non-HIPAA compliant telehealth platforms currently only apply to telehealth sessions covered by Medicare and other federal healthcare programs overseen by the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services. Many insurance companies will still be requiring HIPAA-compliant telehealth sessions in order for you to qualify for reimbursements. If you choose to use a non-HIPAA compliant telehealth platform, you’ll need to check the requirements for every insurance company that covers your clients.
4. Customer Support
With thera-LINK's telehealth platform you will have access to a dedicated customer support team to help you with any hiccups you might have as you get started with telehealth. We can provide help setting up the platform, walk you through the features to get you onboarded, and provide answers to questions your clients may have. The customer care team is available by email or in-app messaging to field any questions that come up.
5. Built for Therapists
Features of thera-LINK's telehealth platform are built specifically with therapists and their clients in mind. You’ll be able to access client notes and files during video conference sessions and share your screen to allow you to complete worksheets and share resources with your clients. thera-LINK offers appointment scheduling, beautiful custom virtual waiting rooms, payment processing, and much more! With thera-LINK you will be equipped with all of the user-friendly tools you need to start offering telehealth in your practice during times of heightened health concerns. Other video conference technologies like Apple FaceTime or Skype will not have these features because they were not intended for therapy.