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Will Your Contact Center Land You in Thousands of HIPAA Fines?

January 15, 2019 | Blog

 

As a healthcare organization, you take HIPAA seriously. Since the HIPAA Security Rule and HIPAA Privacy Rule went into effect, your whole business has worked overtime to protect the private information of your patients or members. Your leadership has fine-tuned and perfected practices to keep your organization compliant, which your employees implement as if these mandates are second nature. That said, when it comes to healthcare customer service solutions, often times it’s more cost effective and efficient to outsource certain processes. When you do, you need your partners to be just as compliant as you – or risk incurring up to $50,000 per violation.

 

The Final Omnibus Rule of 2013 decreed that a contact center, more than just helping deliver remarkable patient outcomes, needed to communicate electronic protected health information (ePHI) in compliance with HIPAA. And if your partner is the weak brick in your defensive wall, you are just as liable for their violations.

 

So, how can you verify whether contact center specialists will be compliant with HIPAA? Evaluate them based on the following criteria to ensure they will keep your patients’ data secure and save your business thousands in fines.

 

How They Secure Communication Channels

Though the availability of omnichannel customer service is essential to your business, HIPAA-savvy contact centers will know what channel will provide the greatest security in every situation. In fact, the right channel can vary greatly between outbound and inbound communication.

 

For example, secure texting solutions should always be the go-to when transmitting patient data. Unlike traditional SMS, secure texting requires user authentication on a private communications network before practitioners or patients can review ePHI on any device without risking a breach. When centers choose SMS, instant messaging, or email instead of secure texting, they eliminate an essential layer of security and open your business up to hackers.

 

What about inbound communication? Customers range in their preferred communication style, and contact centers need to adapt to those preferences while remaining HIPAA compliant. The right partner will not only sport a HIPAA compliant VoIP system, but will have best practices in place to ensure the transmission and storage of patient data aligns with regulations.

 

How Their Systems Protect Patient Data

An effective contact center partner ensures that all ePHI, even if they only ever pass through a contact center’s platform, is protected to the fullest extent. A HIPAA-compliant contact center partner will achieve this through the right blend of their own proprietary programs and best-in-class technical strategies.

 

Though encryption is not compulsory under HIPAA regulations, it’s the safest bet for contact centers dedicated to protecting patient data. The fact is that unless a file is permanently deleted, it’s retrievable and vulnerable – and even then, resourceful hackers have been known to bring back “permanently deleted” files from the great beyond.

 

Contact centers that practice regular ePHI encryption, whether the files are in transit or at rest, make them unreadable gibberish to anyone but authorized users with the encryption key. When that encryption key is strong, hackers have an exponentially difficult time trying to unlock the key code, making certain the juice is definitely not worth the squeeze.

 

How Their Culture Encourages Greater Security

All aspects of a call center’s effectiveness eventually lead back to the performance of its people. Healthcare contact centers are no different. Everyone from the leadership team down to line-level agents takes ownership of remaining HIPAA compliant, each in their own way.

 

Customer service agents need to be HIPAA experts. Through the training provided, effective agents will recognize when an action would violate HIPAA regulations and understand the legal ramifications of those actions. Additionally, they will be prepared to use the channels and programs that will keep patient and member data secure.

 

A contact center’s leadership are the key evangelists. It’s their responsibility to develop a Business Associate Agreement that establishes the administrative and technical safeguards that will protect ePHI along every stop in the customer lifecycle. They develop the training regimens and coaching tactics to bring agents up-to-speed with the latest changes to HIPAA. Moreover, they set the tone for the company culture, determining whether or not agents feel empowered, supported, and satisfied with their work.

 

We find this last part especially important. That’s why we strive to put our agents first, conveying the meaning of their work and their importance in protecting people’s personal data from the hands of hackers. This encourages our agents to take the depth of ownership that not only keeps your patients protected but your reputation and finances as well.

 

Want to ensure your HIPAA call center compliance? Learn more about how TLC Associates’ HIPAA-compliant environment keeps patient data secure and customer service exceptional.

 

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