Chatbots, Security, and Healthcare Records
Chatbots are useful resources for businesses helping to connect with new and existing customers on their websites or social media. They are a cost-effective way to capture prospective users’ information and provide them with basic answers. The technology can also set expectations for human response time frames. On the back end, chatbots can sync with customer relationship management tools and help businesses manage customer data.
Many users, particularly millennials, prefer messaging to calling. On this front, chatbots are exceptionally helpful — especially when it comes to industries like healthcare. This field involves dealing with sensitive information about personal health. However, electronic data transmission and chatbot use bring up a variety of security concerns surrounding personal health information and Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act (HIPAA) laws. What happens if a patient messages a chatbot and provides very personal medical history? Is it legal to keep that information?
It’s a challenge for healthcare providers and others in the medical and pharmaceutical industries to strike a balance between providing consistent, quality customer service and ensuring HIPAA protocols are met.
A Look at HIPAA Protocols
HIPAA was established and set into law in 1996. Since then, we’ve all further digitized our records, and medical offices and hospitals are no exception. There’s a reason some medical establishments still use those file folders with the stickers on the side: Applying HIPAA protocols to digital documents can be a challenge.
With paper documents, you can follow the proper shredding protocols. There are 18 types of documents and medical records that fall under HIPAA protection, including the following:
- Biometric identifiers like retinal scans
- Full-face photos
- Account numbers
- Health plan information
- Social Security numbers
- Fax numbers
- Medical record numbering
- Geographic indicators and addresses
- License and certificate numbers
- Web addresses
- IP addresses
- Vehicle identifiers (such as license plates)
- Other identifying information, such as a person’s physical characteristics
HIPAA clearly covers a lot of ground, especially since this applies to both physical documents as well as mobile ones.
How Should Medical Businesses Protect Themselves?
In addition to having strict security protocols about patient data and providing patients with the HIPAA form upon their initial visit, your medical related business should perform a thorough background check on any potential employees.
Business insurance is crucial. Not only does it cover the physical location of your office, but any physical or digital data that someone else could potentially access and steal. Many businesses don’t think about that customer data when it comes to insurance protection, but it’s especially vital for anyone in the medical field.
As with medicine itself, prevention is often the most cost-effective and useful way to proceed.
How We Use Chatbots in Healthcare
Currently, many healthcare systems and other types of businesses in the medical field use chatbots to answer customer inquiries on websites and social media platforms like Facebook.
While it’s convenient for physicians to converse with each other this way or ask AI to look up particular information, HIPAA laws make many wary of providing too many specifics or tying queries to patients, account numbers, or cases.
To comply with HIPAA laws, chatbots should provide consumers and other users with privacy warnings before the user can initiate a conversation. Here’s an example of what that might look like:
“Thank you for contacting our medical care facility. We look forward to helping you! I’m MedBot, and I’m here to answer basic questions, set appointments, and forward your queries to a human representative. I am not allowed to collect detailed information about your medical conditions, nor provide any related information to you. Let’s get started. What can I help you with today?”
- Set an appointment
- Request a callback from a nurse practitioner
- Provide feedback on our facilities
- Request a blank intake form”
This is a friendly message that covers the basics, sets expectations, and advises customers against sharing personal information. That said, the bot will still need to collect basic info such as name, email, and phone number so a human can respond if necessary. It’s important to remember those HIPAA protocols once you receive and store that information.
For this reason, you should also know how and where your chatbot app stores, retains, and clears its data. It must be HIPAA compliant.
The Future of AI in Healthcare
AI in healthcare (private sector) is set to be a $6.6 billion investment by the time 2021 rolls around. Administrative workflow assistance, including chatbots, is one of the three primary sectors receiving a major chunk of that funding.
When implemented according to HIPAA standards, chatbots and other automated technology can help doctors intake and analyze information. The industry is still cautious about that, and patients are sometimes reticent about automation when it comes to something as personal as healthcare. However, computers can rapidly assess multiple risk factors, such as family history, genetics, symptoms, and test results to recommend a diagnosis to a human doctor.
Chatbots are an unstoppable force in connecting patients to doctors. As long as they remain HIPAA compliant, they can continue to increase organization and accuracy, meet increasing medical industry demands, and assist with life-saving data collection in the future.