HIPAA Compliance in the Age of Population Health Management

The goal of Population Health Management (PHM) is to improve the health outcomes of a group of patients with similar characteristics. One example of a population in this context are patients suffering from the same chronic condition. The care of patients in this group may be managed similarly, often involving the same treatments, tests, procedures and other forms of care.

The treatment of chronic conditions typically involves multiple parties, from a primary care physician to multiple specialists and of course the patient. This, in turn, requires frequent communications between the parties.

EHR systems were intended to facilitate these communications but have some shortcomings. And maintaining HIPAA compliance is a key challenge. This article looks at how organizations can use Direct Secure Messaging to overcome the technical and regulatory challenges of communications in a PHM scenario.

The Challenge of Managing Chronic Conditions

Chronic conditions are complex to manage. They typically involve multiple syndromes, symptoms, tests and treatments. They require multiple specialists to manage effectively, as well as a high degree of patient diligence.

Diabetes is a good example. It cannot be cured, only managed for the remainder of the patient’s life. As with most complex chronic conditions, managing diabetes involves regular visits with specialists to ensure that things don’t get worse. Managing a patient’s glucose level is always the short-term concern, but left unmanaged, diabetes can result in catastrophic outcomes such as the loss of a patient’s feet or eyes, or kidney or heart damage.

In addition to the patient’s primary care physician, medical professionals involved in the management of diabetes could include nurse educators, endocrinologists, ophthalmologists, cardiologists, dietitians, podiatrists, exercise physiologists, dentists and others. The coordination of care between so many providers – and with the patient – is essential.

Technical and Regulatory Challenges in PHM

Part of the promise of EHR systems was that they would facilitate the level of information exchange between healthcare providers that is necessary for coordinating the care of patients. To do that, the HL7 data standard emerged to ensure that the hundreds of EHR products in the market could “talk to” each other. Unfortunately, different HER vendors interpret the HL7 standard differently, resulting in incompatible data formats. This, in turn, causes missing or inaccurate patient records.

In addition, some EHR vendors employ a proprietary data format that effectively blocks information exchange with EHRs from other vendors. And, some vendors charge providers to enable their systems to interoperate with others.

These constraints make it harder to manage patient care across providers, rendering the ultimate goal of PHM – better patient outcomes – harder to reach. The alternative for information exchange – provider-to-provider email, postal mail or faxes, can result in HIPAA violations (and are slow and unreliable).

Another challenge is that EHRs were designed to facilitate provider-to-provider care. But for PHM, the patient plays a pivotal role in achieving good outcomes. So, too, can family members or other caregivers, such as home health agencies, that might not have access to an EHR.

Electronic communication is by far the easiest, most efficient, most reliable, and most accountable means of communications between providers and patients. But standard email isn’t a viable option under HIPAA because the identity of the recipient – the reader of the email – cannot be validated. And, regular email is no more secure than sending a postcard with sensitive patient information written on it for all to see, which again presents HIPAA compliance issues. Moreover, regular email lacks a documentation and audit trail that all parties involved in the patient’s care can access.

The Value of Direct Secure Messaging

The ideal solution is Direct Secure Messaging (“Direct”) from DataMotion. Direct is a secure email-like communications channel that enables providers to communicate with each other – as well as with patients and other caregivers – in a secure, HIPAA-compliant way. All messages are encrypted and require authentication to send and receive.

Importantly, Direct is an enhancement to EHRs, not a replacement. Providers can access Direct from within most popular EHRs.

On the provider side, Direct helps improve patient outcomes in a PHM environment by facilitating the exchange of patient medical records in a standardized manner. This includes formatted and unformatted data, as well as large files such as radiologic studies and diagnostic images. Direct enables better coordination of care. It also reduces errors and delays over conventional means of information exchange; for instance, delays when records are sent by courier, and mistakes due to the illegibility of handwritten notes.

On the patient side, Direct get patients engaged in the management of their condition, which boosts outcomes. Patients can, for example, provide timely feedback on how well treatments are working, allowing providers to make adjustments accordingly without a delay for the patient to make an appointment with the provider. Patients can report new symptoms, complications or other issues to the provider immediately, thereby potentially avoiding life-threatening situations. And providers can ensure that patients refilled prescriptions when scheduled, or remind patients of upcoming office visits or tests to take.

Managing healthcare is increasingly a team effort. Frequent, accurate communication between the team members – including the patient – is paramount to achieving good outcomes. Direct offers an effective enhancement to EHRs that can help care providers deliver better patient outcomes while complying fully with HIPAA rules for privacy and security.

About DataMotion™ Direct

Based on the national encryption standard for securely exchanging clinical healthcare data via the Internet, DataMotion™ Direct enables secure messaging for healthcare providers, patients, business associates, and clinical systems. Using DataMotion™ Direct, PHI can be sent and received securely, in a manner that conforms to MU2 guidelines. It supports the transmission of a variety of sensitive data, including summary of care documents, large images, and personal messages. Best of all it integrates easily with existing EMR/EHR and other Health IT solutions to fully support in-network and out-of-network communications.

DataMotion is an accredited Health Information Service Provider (HISP), provisioning Direct services that are fully interoperable with other HISPs. Secure data delivery has been the core of DataMotion’s business since 1999, ensuring your ability to meet HIPAA compliance and Meaningful Use requirements.

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