Technology has changed the landscape when it comes to connections between clinicians and patients -and as is always the case, there are new factors that nurses & nurse practitioners should take into consideration when it comes to compliance with HIPAA regulations. After all, the introduction of new technological elements does inherently introduce privacy risks when it comes to patient care.

In the modern day and age, there are many ways for nurse practitioners and nurses to connect with patients. For example, an increasing number of nurses are using text messaging and other instant messaging services to connect directly with their patients. The use of FaceTime, Skype, Zoom, and Google Hangouts may seem like it provides nurses with a quick and efficient way of having one-on-one consultations with their patients – thus enhancing the amount of time they can dedicate to interactions with clients and making continuing care accessible even for those patients who do not have ready transportation to consultations.  However, these methods are not a safe and secure way of connecting with patients. Most of these services can have privacy leaks since they lack encrypted email or video storage.

While physicians are on board with developments in the use of technology in the field of nursing, it is important that they are doing so in a manner that complies with HIPAA regulations. So how can nurses ensure that they provide this sort of care while still keeping in line with HIPAA regulations?

One of the first things to bear in mind is that the technology that nurses use to communicate with patients must be HIPAA certified and encrypted to protect patient information. According to HIPAA rules, nurses can be fined for using uncertified methods to contact patients. Stories of this happening have only increased as the technology becomes more readily available for them to do so.

A key factor of HIPAA that nurses must be aware of is the protection of their patient’s information when they connect with them through technological means. At this point, everyone has heard stories about nurses who accidentally allowed patient information to leak – such as Katie Duke, ER Nurse featured on NY MED.  The information they choose to share through Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, are not adequately protecting their patient’s confidentiality – which constitutes a privacy breach. Healthcare organizations rely on software programs that alert Quality Officers of staff members’ negative or positive comments about their organizations. Social media is also frequently used to screen “new hires” or currently employed staff members.

It is important when connecting with any patient through any means to ensure that information is password protected. If necessary, information must be deleted to ensure that nobody can access that knowledge if they do not have the right to do so. Failure to do so could result in charges of negligence, which can be a grave violation of HIPAA policies.

None of this is meant to scare nurses off from the use of technology when it comes to fostering patient connections. On the contrary, as the technology improves and as nurses become more used to using it on a regular basis, it will only become easier to take the necessary steps to protect patient information. Simply being proactive in one’s approach to the use of technology can ensure that nurses make the best of the technology that they have at their disposal when it comes to patient care. Here are a few resources:

1. Email Messages – EmailPros

2. Text Messages – TigerText

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