Challenges

  • HIPAA/HITECH Compliance
  • Least-Invasive Workflow Changes
  • Universal Integration
  • Long-term, Secure Storage
  • Ability to Send Large Files

Solution

Protected Trust provided a secure, compliant email solution, which integrated with the existing workflow without invasive changes, required negligible implementation effort from customers, and allowed greater control over communication of client and patient information.

Efficiencies Through Innovation: Protected and Managing The Communication Lifeline

Organization: Valley Phyisians Services
Industry: Healthcare
Location: Rio Grande Valley, TX, US

Valley Physician Services was started over 30 years ago to bill for a group of hospital-based physicians. In 1997, it began billing multiple specialties. The mainframe software used by Valley Physician Services is the Cerner product, Ideal. The encrypted email service used to protect Protected Health Information is Protected Trust.

The Challenge

Because the healthcare industry is regulated by the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act of 1996 (HIPAA) and other privacy and security rules, Valley Physicians Services (VPS) needed a solution that would meet or exceed these sector requirements for communicating Protected Health Information (PHI). VPS wanted an easy-to-use encrypted email solution that improved the utilization rate for secure communication of PHI by everyone— VPS staffers and customers alike.

The Protected Trust Solution

Looking at industry requirements, VPS wanted to offer customers a secure communications option that would be government-compliant now and over the next few years of anticipated regulation changes. The solution would also need to minimally impact current workflow practices and be used by anyone without complicated registrations or additional fees. Additionally, VPS wanted to keep records and email information safely stored forever and be able to send large files easily.

Workflow Integration

Part of the challenge in moving from a mostly analog workflow to a mostly digital one is being able to simply and securely communicate information. An analog workflow typically uses slow but reliable postal or courier services. The information is collected, a cover letter attached, and a package is mailed. In a digital workflow the information is attached to an email, addressed, and sent with an almost instantaneous delivery. To be secure, however, another step is needed to protect the email and attachments.

VPS needed information protection that didn’t impede its workflow or be so cumbersome that staffers would be tempted to leave off that important step. Protected Trust offered a simple solution. Almost no training was needed to begin use. There was no special hardware or appliances to install. A secure email client was readily available via a standard web browser. By using the Protected Trust email, VPS was able to add the needed protection to its digital workflow.

Industry Regulations

Valley Physicians Services has been in the medical records business for 30 years, and undoubtedly has seen many changes. During that time, the shift of medical records from paper to electronic formats has increased the risk of leaking sensitive information. The United States Congress passed the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act (HIPAA) in 1996 to establish a national standard for the safe electronic transfer of health data. A follow-up regulation, the Health Information Technology for Economic and Clinical Health act, passed in 2009 strengthens the civil and criminal penalties of the HIPAA rules.

Advanced Handling Features

Part of the challenge was in choosing a solution that VPS’s customers could readily use. Protected Trust email recipients didn’t need to register, could access their email and attachments from virtually anywhere, and could reply just as securely to VPS.

“Besides being the least-invasive of the encrypted email options, the Protected Trust solution improved the full use of email encryption by everyone,” said Flory.

Every user of the Protected Trust system must prove his or her identity when sending or opening a protected message. But the simplicity of the Protected Trust system is that recipients are authenticated with either a shared secret, their own phone number, or their own password, so there is no additional technical requirement to burden the recipient.

Protected Trust also uses a secure printer concept. Basically, if a document can be printed it can be encrypted. The feature for encryption is as simple as if the sender were routing the document to their local/network printer.

Service and Support

VPS was pleased with the level of customer support from implementation to follow- through. Protected Trust staff were able to accommodate the needs and questions of VPS staffers. Specific features like the ability to send large files by email were important to the business model. Compliance with record retention was also a concern, but as Anne Flory noted, “VPS intends to keep records and emails forever in case of audits.”

Conclusion

Valley Physicians Services has successfully evolved in the medical billing field over the last 30 years by keeping up with challenges as they arise. Protecting electronic communications while meeting the needs of their customers is a great example of how VPS has continued to meet the needs of the healthcare field. Using the Protected Trust solution they are able to offer simple, secure, universal email to ensure the protected information their customers want and need.