To provide the best care for our patients, physicians and healthcare workers must communicate constantly. For many of us, text messaging, push-to-talk messages, and video calling have become the preferred method of contact.
However, SMS, FaceTime, Skype, and iMessage are not technically HIPAA-compliant platforms. Even though some like FaceTime may meet data security standards that could make them HIPAA compliant, they don’t necessarily commit to it.
We have seen an influx of HIPAA-compliant secure messaging apps over the past few years like AthenaText, Doximity, TigerText, and others. HIPAAChat enters into this market as an easy to use app with an intuitive format and some pretty unique features that make it stand out. Following the acquisition by Everbridge, a world leader in cloud-based, unified critical communications, HIPAAChat also incorporates advanced Enterprise utility and interoperability. Secure text, group chat, image transfer – check. Dictate/audio transfer/push-to-talk – check. Real-time, live video calling? You bet! HIPAAChat provides all these features packaged in an app that is as easy to use as iMessage and FaceTime.
After downloading the HIPAAChat app, setup was extremely simple and only required input of your name, email, and phone number. Optional information included a photo upload and a 4-digit pin setup if your phone isn’t fingerprint or password protected. In order to connect with colleagues, both parties must have the app on their smartphone. However, within the app, you can select people from your existing contacts or enter a phone number or email and an invitation will be sent prompting them to download the app to begin HIPAA-compliant communication.
HIPAAChat is available for both Android and iPhone devices. As a result, the app facilitates secure messaging between all members of the care team, including physicians, nurses, social workers, consultants, etc. One of the main features that kept me using the HIPAAChat app is the simple, clean, and intuitive interface. I have been using this app to answer questions about patients from residents and referring doctors. Despite a busy clinical and surgical volume, the app allows for minimal disruption in my current routine.
The messaging features are standard and work the same as SMS or iMessage. The interface shows when a message was read and also displays when a message is being typed. A nice feature of this and other secure messaging apps is the ability to group text with users. The Enterprise software allows for additional features, including the creation of group distribution lists via active directory/ADAM and LDAP synchronization. This would be particularly useful for alerting specialized medical teams, such as a Stroke Team, Code Team, Trauma Team, etc. In our practice, we have been using HIPAAChat to relay information on surgical or clinic add-ons, questions on patient management, and consultations from other doctors.
In ophthalmology, as with many other medical specialties, we heavily rely on imaging for patient care. A picture is often worth a thousand words. HIPAAChat allows for secure transmission of photos with a simple tap of the camera icon. Users can choose to take a new photo or choose an existing photo, without leaving the app interface. One feature missing in the current version is the ability to transmit saved videos asynchronously.
Walkie-talkie or push-to-talk allows recording voice messages with the touch of a button. This feature actually plays the audio message instead of converting to text. However, the audio message is played back over the speaker, so you must be cognizant of people around as they will hear the message. In addition to touch-to-talk, the app also allows talk-to-text, making it extremely easy to dictate text messages on the fly. With the release of smart watches like the Apple Watch, these features could open the door to efficient audio messaging on your wrist since these devices won’t allow texting on the screens. Message alerts show up on the Apple Watch, but the current version will not display actual messages. Although future versions are likely to incorporate the use of the smart watches.
A main distinguishing feature of HIPAAChat from several competitors is the ability for real-time audio and video calling. As a result, the HIPAAChat app can also serve as a telemedicine platform. The video calling has a similar interface as FaceTime or Skype, again contributing to the ease-of-use and intuitive nature of the app. Call clarity and picture quality was very good, without any significant delays or picture freezes when I used it on our Wifi network.
With maximum fines of $50,000 per violation and up to $1.5 million annually for repeat violations, secure messaging of PHI is imperative. HIPAAChat allows for secure, encrypted transmission of messages as part of the Everbridge platform. The app meets all the administrative, technical, and physical safeguards.
I have been using the basic HIPAAChat lite, which is free for download and offers the core secure communication features. The Enterprise-level adds an IT administrator console for managing users and devices, an Active Directory sync, archiving and data retention, auditing, reporting, and analytics. Additionally, the Enterprise version facilitates system integration with EHRs, labs, admissions/discharge/transfer systems, and nurse call/intercom systems. For institutions wanting custom integration, fully documented APIs are available and based on specific needs.
The live video calling feature of the HIPAAChat app sets it apart from other secure messaging apps that I have used. Whereas two systems are usually needed for secure messaging and telemedicine, HIPAAChat combines the two in one platform. Additionally, unlike many telemedicine platforms, the physician can access secure video on their smartphone or tablet, making it truly portable.
The HIPAAChat platform enables physicians to communicate virtually with other medical staff, consultants, and even patients from anywhere. I have found that the video consultations can be very useful in the emergency room setting, often preventing unneeded transfers, follow-up, or unnecessary treatment. Everbridge also offers an iCart that serves as a mobile telemedicine platform, ideally suited for the emergency room. The iCart is a mobile cart on wheels with the attachment of a tablet. The housing of the tablet allows for attachment of video lights, a Wood’s lamp, and macro lenses specifically for ophthalmology and dermatology.