May 9, 2023

Importance of HIPAA Compliant Answering Service for Physicians

image of a busy doctor and patient talking showing the need for an answering service for physicans

We all depend on the healthcare sector throughout our lives. The high number of people who need medical and healthcare services means the industry is lucrative and has many business opportunities. However, it also comes with challenges.

As a physician, you know that your patients depend on your medical services. They also expect the best customer service from you. When your patients call your office, they want to talk to an expert who can help them in their quest for care. If they are greeted by an automated voice or if their calls are not answered promptly, they may become frustrated. More importantly, it is your responsibility to protect your patient’s health information.

HIPAA requirements for patient privacy and data security place a tremendous amount of liability on your shoulders as a physician. The law ensures that all HIPAA-covered entities implement safeguards to protect a patient’s personal and health information. Any information disclosed to healthcare providers and health plans, or information created by them, transmitted, or stored by them, is subject to strict security controls. It has other benefits, too. Such as: streamlined administrative healthcare functions, improved efficiency in the healthcare industry, and ensured protected health information is shared securely.

If you plan to hire a HIPAA compliant answering service for physicians, you have come to the right place. This article will discuss everything you need to know about a HIPAA compliant answering service for physicians, including its benefits. Keep reading to learn more.

Why Was HIPAA Created?

The Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act (HIPAA) was enacted in 1996. It was created with the goals of making healthcare delivery more efficient and increasing the number of American families with health insurance coverage. The Act included sections providing coverage for employees with pre-existing medical conditions, introducing tax breaks, and making the administration of health insurance easier.

There have been several amendments to HIPAA since it was signed into law. While its initial objective focused on regulating the health insurance industry, the Act also allowed the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) to set standards for the safeguarding of identifiable health information by protecting and legitimizing a patient’s rights to their healthcare information. 

HIPAA comprises a set of rules, each with a particular function, which we will outline below. 

The Privacy Rule of 2000

The goal of the HIPAA Privacy Rule was to introduce restrictions on the allowable uses and disclosures of protected health information. It stipulates under what circumstances and with whom health information can be shared. Access to personal health information by an unauthorized person can incur penalties if the organization does not have adequate safeguards in place.

The Security Rule of 2003

The Security Rule requires all organizations to use technical, physical, and administrative safeguards to protect electronic health data. Furthermore, it is upon all covered entities to ensure the availability, integrity, and confidentiality of all e-PHI they receive, create, maintain, or transmit.

The Breach Notification Rule of 2009

The Breach Notification Rule of 2009 was introduced to inform organizations of their responsibility in case of a data breach. It states that covered entities must promptly provide notification of the breach to the affected person, the Secretary, and, if the breach is of a significant scale, to the media.

Who Needs to be HIPAA Compliant?

Anyone in healthcare practice must be HIPAA compliant. This may include dentists, physicians, psychologists, physicians, nursing homes, hospitals, and health clinics. In addition, if any of these enterprises need outsourcing, the company they choose to outsource to should also be HIPAA compliant.

How to Know if an Answering Service for Physicians is HIPAA Compliant

As a licensed physician in the US, you are required to comply with PHI security and confidentiality. Therefore, if you hire an answering service for physicians, they should also follow the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act (HIPAA).  They will ensure all patient information is encrypted and stored securely. The answering service should provide you with customer service representatives who have been trained to follow HIPAA and privacy regulations. 

In 2013, updates to HIPAA mandated that all healthcare service providers must comply with HIPAA. Again, even if your medical practice is already HIPAA compliant, the answering service you hire must be HIPAA compliant too.

While it is mandatory for any answering service handling patient information to be HIPAA compliant, not all of them are. When choosing an answering service for physicians, make sure they store all patient information in a safe and secure manner. 

image of a HIPAA compliant answering service for physicans

You can use the following criteria to determine whether or not an answering service is HIPAA compliant.

  • Does the answering service store patient information securely?
  • Do they protect recorded messages to be relayed to physicians?
  • Do they have a secure and protected patient appointment scheduling system?
  • Does the answering service send patient messages to physicians or healthcare providers in a secure way to protect patient information in the process?
  • Are text message communications secure, even if their devices are lost?

An answering service for physicians that is HIPAA compliant must answer “yes” to every single one of these questions.

Benefits of a HIPAA Compliant Answering Service for Physicians

The following are the benefits of hiring an answering service that is knowledgeable of HIPAA and compliant.

Privacy and Security of Patient Information

For any physician, meeting HIPAA privacy expectations is a priority, both legally and ethically. A HIPAA answering service for physicians is familiar with the level of sensitive data that your patients have.

They offer professional virtual receptionists trained to comply with HIPAA. Whether answering a phone call about the results of a life-changing medical test or about a simple medication refill, the virtual receptionist will do all they can to handle your patients with privacy and sensitivity.

If you hire a HIPAA compliant answering service, you will not have to worry about training your staff. This can be costly and time-consuming. In addition, a reliable answering service will keep accurate data and streamline it with your practice management. 

Improved Customer Service

Customer service is key to the success of any business. Your customer needs to feel valued and that you are concerned about their issues. A satisfied customer will trust you and come back again whenever they need help. They can also refer you to more potential customers.

As a physician, you are often moving from one appointment to another and busy attending to your patients during office hours. Of course, this means you may not have time to answer every call from your patients. When a patient calls your office for help, they expect their calls to be answered promptly by a qualified person.

A HIPAA compliant answering service provides 24/7 customer service to your patients. Even if your patients call after hours, on holidays, or on the weekends, you can be sure that someone knowledgeable will be there to listen to their concerns and help them. Additionally, a virtual receptionist can take messages and forward them to a physician. This helps reassure patients that their concerns will be addressed on time by the right person.

With an answering service, you will never miss important phone calls from your patients. An answering service can help you handle overflow calls and help you save on the cost of hiring many in-house receptionists. 

Consequences if an Answering Service for Physicians Does Not Abide by HIPAA

HIPAA laws exist to maintain the integrity of all healthcare services by protecting patient privacy and personal data. As such, the consequences of not abiding by HIPAA can cripple your business for years.

Intentional violations can cost your business millions of dollars as well as criminal charges. Unintentional violations can also cost your business thousands of dollars’ worth of fines and even sanctions.

So, be sure to only hire a HIPAA compliant answering service. They can help you improve customer service by providing reliable, secure, and fast communication with patients. They will ensure the privacy and security of all patient information.

If you want to learn more about our HIPAA compliant answering service, contact our team, and we will be happy to walk you through our qualifications and process.