HIPAA privacy rules have existed in the US since 1996 to protect the privacy of health information.
One of the greatest challenges presented to the medical industry by HIPAA is how to communicate information between healthcare providers and patients (and between providers) without compromising HIPAA regulations.
Secure Medical Messaging Options
Email is, essentially, out of the question. While there are ways to securely deliver information via email and maintain compliance with the regulations, the techniques are cumbersome for end users and many patients would not be able to participate.
Some electronic medical records systems offer patient portals that can meet all the HIPAA requirements for privacy, but most of these systems are designed to offer that service only to existing patients. Thus, patient portals don’t actually provide a complete solution when communication with new patients is necessary, an issue for nearly every thriving practice.
Because of the challenges presented, medical practices rely on faxing to communicate because it is somehow considered HIPAA complaint messaging and the infrastructure is already in place.
Faxing is an expensive problem for many practices.
- Multiple telephone lines often necessary to eliminate faxing bottlenecks
- Maintenance of dialing rules is complex in many areas of the US
- Faxes not delivered electronically consume expensive paper and ink
- Junk faxes have to be dealt with by expensive personnel
- Successful delivery of faxes is often hard to verify
- Historical tracing of faxes sent and received is extremely rare
Secure Internet Messaging
MedTunnel is a new, free, messaging service that solves the problems presented by faxing by providing secure communications to exchange private healthcare information from nearly any platform (PC, phone, tablet, etc.) between patients and healthcare providers.
In the interest of full disclosure, this author participated in an integration program to incorporate MedTunnel into our ZipChart electronic medical records software. We implemented MedTunnel as another option for people to communicate within the practice as well as with other providers and, of course, patients.
While ZipChart already had a certified “patient portal”, we felt MedTunnel was a more inclusive way to easily transmit sensitive documents to existing patients and to receive the same from them. Additionally we now have the flexibility of accepting medical records from new patients before they even visit one of our client clinics.
The adoption rate from other practices invited to communicate with our ZipChart clients has been great. Healthcare providers such as labs and surgery centers are quick to recognize the value of a secure and simple to use conduit for sensitive documents that must be protected.
The name “tunnel” hints at the fact MedTunnel messages are transmitted over the Internet through a secure “tunnel” between users. Even the administrators of MedTunnel don’t have access to the contents of messages sent and received.
Every user has access to the complete history of their messages, including details on whether the message has been read by intended recipients. Anyone that has sent an important fax only to hear the intended recipient say “I never received it!” will appreciate that feature.
MedTunnel is available for iOS on the Apple app store, for Android on Google Play, and on the web at medtunnel.com.