Securing Patient Health Information: On the minds of physicians and health care leadership

By Seth Crouch, Director of Ambulatory Services, Covenant HealthCare  /  04 Jun 2013

In an age where people in the U.S. alone exchange nearly 200 billion text messages every month, it’s not surprising that healthcare has followed suit. More and more physicians are using a range of communications vehicles, from text messaging to emails to pagers, to manage schedules or share patient information. It’s faster, more efficient, increases clinical collaboration and enables clinicians to focus on patient care. However, with these benefits comes the inherent risk of increased security breaches – and in light of the final HIPAA ruling – health systems need to think about securing all forms of communications sooner rather than later.

A cornerstone of Covenant Health is Covenant Medical Group (CMG), a physician group of 182 physicians. For CMG, securing our clinical communications has quickly become a key focus. In addition to hospital administrators and executives, I’ve also personally heard from physicians who are equally concerned about ensuring patient information doesn’t fall into the wrong hands and avoiding the impact and significant costs that come with security breaches. We knew we needed to address these concerns for them, because at the end of the day, we want our physicians to focus on patient care, not worry about security compliance concerns.

What began as a pilot program of a comprehensive clinical communications platform with 30 to 40 of our physicians is now being rolled out to the entire organization because of its success. We’ve also implemented an ongoing risk management strategy to help us prevent security breaches and protect patient privacy. Having a stable number of clinicians who are already comfortable with this platform and set of policies will be critical in encouraging adoption by others, as they’ll help ensure all clinicians are trained and prioritizing how to securely communicate patient health information and how to communicate the efficiency benefits as well. The further ahead of the curve we get in securing our communications, the better prepared we’ll be to comply with any HIPAA regulations.

Beyond CMG, I envision a future where all the health systems in our community are communicating via a standardized secure platform. Many competing organizations share physicians with other hospitals, but as the industry continues to evolve, it will become increasingly important to collaborate with one another in order to move the needle on care quality and achieve true population health management. My hope is that the work we’ve done to secure communications at CMG will inspire others to follow suit, regardless of where HIPAA is headed.

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