Is Google Voice HIPAA Compliant?

Posted by Michael Hsu on 5/24/20 6:00 AM
Michael Hsu

Is Google Voice HIPAA compliant? Google Voice in healthcare

Google Voice is a cloud-based phone service. It allows you to choose a phone number that will be tied to your Google account. You can use it across many different devices to make and receive phone calls. This Google app also lets you exchange SMS messages and get voicemail.

Google Voice has a slate of convenient features and integrates with some other Google apps to offer better functionality. If you want to employ it for healthcare purposes, it needs to be HIPAA compliant.

Is Google Voice HIPAA compliant?

If you want to use an app to transfer protected health information (PHI), you need to sign a contract with the provider. They are considered your business associate (BA), so you are required to enter into a business associate agreement (BAA) with them. This document ensures that their app can be configured so as to adhere to all the HIPAA Rules.

As a free consumer service, Google Voice is not HIPAA compliant. You can’t use it to communicate PHI in a HIPAA-secure way as Google won’t sign a BAA for it.

Google Voice as part of G Suite and HIPAA compliance

Google added Google Voice as an option within their paid tool package G Suite in 2018. Since then, G Suite users have been able to purchase the app to complement others in their office set. This made Voice eligible to become HIPAA compliant.

Google will enter into a BAA for G Suite, and Voice can be included in the agreement. This is easy to achieve through a series of steps in your admin account for G Suite. You should do the following:

  • Log into your account
  • Go to the “Legal and Compliance” page
  • Find “Security and Privacy Additional Terms”
  • Read “G Suite / Cloud Identity HIPAA Business Associate Amendment” (this is the BAA)
  • Answer a couple of required questions
  • Click “Accept”

That’s it—you entered into a BAA with Google for your G Suite package. The problem is this doesn’t make your Google Voice automatically compliant. It only means that it can be made to adhere to the HIPAA regulations, but you have to configure it yourself. Google’s HIPAA Implementation Guide tells you how to do that. You have to obtain Google Voice licenses for the employees who handle PHI through the Voice app. You can do this from your Admin console.

How can you use Google Voice in healthcare?

When you add Voice to your G Suite package, depending on the pricing plan, you get from ten to an unlimited number of users for the app. This means that you can assign local phone numbers to as many employees as you’d like. Each user gets a unique number, but you can also interconnect them through call forwarding and multi-level auto-attendant features.

Thanks to the app’s integration with Google Calendar, your employees can sync it with their working hours. At the end of their workday, Voice will automatically switch to out-of-work mode, and they won’t receive any patient calls on their phones. Patients can still call after hours, but they will be greeted by an answering machine and will have the option of leaving a voicemail.

In practice, this means you don’t need to have dedicated business phones to communicate with patients. Your employees can connect their personal devices to their Voice-assigned numbers and use these during work hours. This way, you can have separate numbers for the front desk, billing, different specialists, different offices and locations, etc.

If you enable a multi-level auto-attendant, your patients get a phone menu when they dial your clinic. The attendant will route their calls to the person or office they are interested in reaching.

Is Google Voice what your clinic needs?

Google Voice has some advantages over an on-premises phone system, including the following:

  • The calls you make are free (excluding international ones)
  • You can use it both on mobile and PC devices
  • It integrates with other Google apps
  • It can transcribe your voicemail messages

These and other benefits make Voice a better option than other phone systems, but that still doesn’t mean it’s worth your money. The truth is you don’t need a better phone call solution—you need a messaging system. 

Texting is the new calling in healthcare

Americans send and receive five times more messages than they make and receive calls. Patients’ preferred way of reaching you is texting, but not many physician practices offer this ability. If you want to increase your communication efficiency and patient satisfaction, you should find a HIPAA-compliant texting solution. 

Voice does offer the possibility to send SMS messages, but if you’re going to communicate PHI through your texts, you’ll need a secure patient app. This app’s primary function is calling, so its SMS feature is nothing special compared to basic SMS messaging. 

You should opt for a healthcare-specific platform that can take your messaging to the next level and help you automate many tedious tasks.

Curogram — the patient-centric two-way messaging platform you need

Curogram is a feature-rich communication platform designed for use in healthcare. The platform incorporates a two-way messaging system and a virtual clinic solution for providing remote medical services.

One of the best things about Curogram is that it is 100% HIPAA compliant by default. Unlike with Google Voice, you don’t have to enable any special features or set it up in a specific way to make it secure for PHI transfer. We have all the HIPAA-prescribed safeguards in place to let you do your job without worrying about violating the law.

It might be the right time to leave the back-and-forth with patients over the phone in the past. Texting makes communication much easier and more accurate. If you still believe Google Voice is the right solution for your clinic, take a look at the following arguments against it:

  1. Google Voice doesn’t integrate with your EHR
  2. Google Voice doesn’t allow you to automate front desk tasks
  3. Google Voice SMS messaging is not safe for PHI transfer
  4. Google Voice leaves plenty of space for errors
  5. Google Voice doesn’t offer a secure staff communication platform

Google voice doesn’t integrate with your EHR

Our platform integrates with your EHR and allows you to manage a single schedule. Since it’s in sync with your schedule, Curogram has the ability to send automated appointment reminders. The best thing about them is that they are not generic one-way texts that only provide information. Your patients can respond to these auto-generated messages and receive an answer from your staff.

Since Curogram easily integrates with your EHR, document transfer is much simpler, patients only have to click one link to join an online consultation, and MAs and nurses can prepare them before their appointment with the doctor.

Curogram EHR integrations

eClinicalWorks

Athena

Epic

Cerner

DrChrono

NextGen

Practice Fusion

CareCloud

Kareo

OfficeAlly

See More Integrations Here

Google Voice doesn’t allow you to automate front desk tasks

Voice is a smart app, but your staff won’t get much out of it. It doesn’t require you to have dedicated business devices, and it allows you to forward calls, but it doesn’t save you much time. Your staff will be stuck on the phone, taking calls, listening through the voicemail, and answering all the SMS messages manually.

Curogram can help you reduce your phone call volume by 50% in about three months. This is important because phone calls take a lot of time that your staff could spend on more useful tasks. If you communicate with patients via texts, you can also increase your patient traffic as there’s no limit to how many of them can text you at the same time.

With our platform, your employees can send SMS messages directly from the dashboard. Numerous features make this task much easier. One of them is the ability to create and save templates, which will be a click away whenever your staff needs them.

Google Voice SMS messaging is not safe for PHI transfer

Just like any SMS messaging, Voice SMS texting is not suited for exchanging patient-identifying data. Even after you set up Voice to be HIPAA compliant, you should still beware of using it in an unsafe way. SMS is never a secure channel for sending sensitive information. 

Texting PHI requires a HIPAA-secure app where your data won’t be compromised during the transfer. We thought about contemporary needs in remote patient care and developed a patient app for safe document transfer that they can download free of charge. Our app is the first HIPAA-secure two-way messaging solution for exchanging sensitive files with patients.

Curogram patient app is available both for iOS and Android, while your staff and doctors can either use the web dashboard or our provider app.

Google Voice leaves plenty of space for errors

If most of your communication with patients unfolds over phone calls, that makes your staff much more likely to make mistakes while inputting data. It’s enough to enter a wrong appointment date into the system to disrupt your whole patient flow. 

You can record incoming calls and get voicemail transcriptions with Voice if you want to double-check all the info, but imagine the amount of time that would take. A nurse or an administrative assistant would have to listen to each call twice. 

Transcription from voicemail messages is not something you should rely on. There’s no AI system smart enough to understand human speech completely and not make mistakes while transcribing it.

With Curogram, you can see all your chats with patients on your dashboard. This allows you to copy/paste data or glance at a specific message instead of having to listen through a whole conversation.

Another practical thing you can do through Curogram is add online appointment booking to your website. This way, patients can schedule appointments directly on your site or through our free directory page. This is yet another feature that allows you to avoid mistakes while booking visits.

Google Voice doesn’t offer a secure staff communication platform

If you’re getting a communication app for your clinic, make sure it has the whole package. It isn’t only important to find the easiest and safest way to communicate with patients—your staff needs a platform where they can talk among themselves too. This is especially necessary if you have offices in multiple locations or your staff works remotely.

Voice offers no way to establish any kind of group chat for your employees, let alone a HIPAA-secure one. This option would reduce the time spent on the phone or running between offices to get information across.

Our platform lets you set up profiles for your employees, and they can use it to communicate among themselves. They can ping each other directly or create groups to discuss anything.

Your staff could make a group in WhatsApp or a similar app, but the problem arises when they have to exchange patient data. WhatsApp and other consumer apps are not HIPAA-compliant, and you don’t want PHI sitting on their personal phone. With Curogram, they can rest easy knowing that the information they’re transferring is protected.

 

Curogram

Google Voice

EHR integration

Yes

No

Automation of tedious tasks

Yes

No

Safe PHI transfer

Yes

No

Accuracy

Yes

No

Secure staff communication

Yes

No

Google Voice for telemedicine appointments

Since Google Voice is HIPAA-secure (as a part of G Suite for businesses), you can employ it for phone appointments. Here are some of the benefits of utilizing Voice for that purpose:

  1. As calling is free with Voice, this can be a cheap alternative to in-person visits
  2. Each of your account users can have their own numbers, so each doctor can see a patient at a time without having to wait
  3. Doctors can talk to patients via laptops or computers, which is easier than having to hold a mobile device and allows them to take notes or look at files while on call

Voice is certainly a useful phone service app, but why do phone visits in the first place when you can conduct video appointments? This is the twenty-first century, and if you’re thinking about providing telemedicine services, you need to get with the times. Your competitors are using video apps, and so should you if you don’t want to lose your patient volume.

What to look for in a telemedicine solution

Transitioning to telemedicine can be nerve-racking (especially if you attempt to use apps like Google Voice for it). You can make it less stressful if you choose an uncomplicated video solution designed for use in healthcare. Here’s what to look for in a telemedicine app:

  1. It should be easy for patients
  2. It should support the workflows of doctors and staff
  3. It should have an option for secure document transfer pre- and post-visit

It should be easy for patients

One of the reasons you’re considering Google Voice for telemedicine might be the fact that it’s easy for patients. Everyone can dial a number and answer a call, even older people that are not on good terms with technology. There are video solutions that are almost as simple, but they provide additional value in terms of being able to see your patient.

Curogram’s telemedicine solution is ridiculously easy for patients. They receive an auto-generated link as soon as the appointment is booked. When the visit is due, all they have to do is click the link, and a video will open in their browser.

It should support the workflows of doctors and patients

If you want your virtual clinic to succeed, you need a solution that can help you replicate the standard workflows typical for in-person visits. This means that seeing a patient online is not as simple as having a doctor dial them directly. Such an abrupt approach to tele-visits would lead to your doctors having to work overtime and your nurses getting stuck with administrative issues.

Curogram supports the established workflows of your doctors and nurses in the following ways:

  • It features a virtual waiting room where nurses and MAs can prepare patients before they’re ready to see the doctor
  • It integrates with your EHR to eliminate the need for double data entry
  • It allows you to send documents related to the appointment in an easy and secure way
  • It allows you to do multi-provider visits
  • It mimics the natural patient flow and doesn’t waste doctors’ time

It should have an option for secure document transfer pre- and post-visit

Doctor’s appointments involve a lot of documents—forms, reports, prescriptions, labs, etc. If you decide to offer telemedicine services, you’ll need to think about how to best send, receive, and store these files.

Curogram provides you with all the tools you may need to handle visit documents. Here’s what you can do with it:

  • You can send secure web intake forms before the appointment
  • Your patients can fill out forms electronically and e-sign them
  • You can send premade PDF files with a single click
  • You can take in-app screenshots
  • You can tie all the documentation to a specific visit
  • You can pull out visit summaries and other documents directly from the EHR

Telemedicine solutions

 

Curogram

Google Voice

Easy for patients

Yes

Yes

Established workflows

Yes

No

Secure document transfer

Yes

No

The combination of a HIPAA-secure messaging and a telemedicine platform makes Curogram a comprehensive app for your clinic. Instead of relying on Google’s apps and outdated solutions, you could join more than 5,000 of our satisfied customers and take your medical practice to a whole new level.

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Topics: HIPAA, Google Voice

Patient 2-Way Texting

Curogram provides “All-In-One” texting and HIPAA compliant messaging platform for independent practices, physician groups, and clinically integrated networks.

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