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How to Choose the Right HIPAA Compliant Phone Answering Service

By Brian Farris   |    January 19, 2021   |    1:02 PM

What Therapists and Other Medical Professionals Need to Know About Choosing a Phone Answering Provider

Running a medical practice can be exhausting, and it’s not uncommon for therapists and other medical professionals to enlist the help of third-party service providers. Phone answering is one of the most commonly outsourced services — trained virtual receptionists ensure every call is answered and every appointment is scheduled.

Finding the right help is tricky enough, but the medical community has to make sure that their vendors also maintain HIPAA compliance at all times.

Like you, these third-party providers are expected to carefully handle health information. They’re bound by the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act (HIPAA), but you can’t assume all providers are familiar with the rules and regulations.

Today, we’re going to share some of the most important things therapists and other medical professionals need to keep in mind when choosing a phone answering service. When you’re ready to utilize phone answering in your own practice, keep this list handy.

1. Is the phone answering provider familiar with HIPAA?

At Intelligent Office, we have a number of doctors, therapists, medical practices, and counselors who use our services. Our virtual receptionists are specifically trained on HIPAA compliance and our teams are deeply familiar with HIPAA requirements.

This isn’t the case with every phone answering service, however.

As a medical provider, you’ll be most concerned about protecting the privacy of clients when checking people in and when accepting private and sensitive information. These scenarios include:

  • Scheduling appointments
  • Collecting insurance information
  • Sensitive conversations when a virtual receptionist speaks to a patient
  • Accepting documentation on behalf of the patient
  • Storing confidential information for in-person check-in

It isn’t an exhaustive list, so think about additional scenarios your practice might encounter. Be sure to ask about them when vetting phone answering providers.

2. Does the phone answering provider understand what type of data is considered Protected Health Information (PHI)?

PHI is defined as any individually identifiable health information. It could be in any form or medium, including paper, electronic, and even oral.

PHI includes:

  • A patient’s past, present, or future physical or mental health or condition
  • Their treatment plan
  • Payment information
  • Name
  • Address
  • Dates related to an individual (including their birth date and admission date)
  • Telephone number
  • Fax number
  • Email address
  • Social security number
  • Medical record number
  • Health plan beneficiary number
  • Account number
  • Certificate or license number
  • Vehicle identifiers and serial numbers
  • Device identifiers and serial numbers
  • IP address
  • Biometric identifiers, like fingerprints or voice prints
  • Photographs (not only the person’s face — other images could also be used to identify an individual)
  • Any other characteristic that could uniquely identify an individual patient

As you can see, it’s a long list! When choosing a phone answering service for your practice, it’s important to select a company that understands the breadth and depth of what constitutes PHI.

3. How is PHI used and stored?

Once you’ve determined that an answering service understands your practice’s needs, it’s time to get a bit more detailed. The way a provider uses and stores PHI is the most important detail to consider.

HIPAA guidelines state that all electronic transmissions of PHI must be secure. Typically, that means utilizing encryption and password protection. If a phone answering service shares patient appointment information with you over a standard email message, for example, they are not HIPAA compliant. 

If a third-party provider has a secure, password-protected portal that only you can access, and PHI is shared there, that’s a great sign for compliance. This is how we do it at Intelligent Office. 

HIPAA compliance isn’t only about technical safeguards. You must also consider physical safeguards and administrative safeguards. This Official HIPAA Compliance Checklist from the HIPAA journal is a great resource that you can use to double-check an answering service’s compliance.

Your HIPAA-compliant phone answering service

All Intelligent Office locations understand that HIPAA compliance is a vital component of a thriving medical business, and we invite you to vet our service against the competition. 

If you’re ready to learn more, simply click here to get started.

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