Is WhatsApp HIPAA Compliant? Your Questions Answered

Jessie Whittaker
August 8, 2022
Read time:
5
Minutes

We live in an era where technology and digital communication are an integral part of everyday life.

 

As such, the need for electronic data security has never been more essential.

Especially in regards to sensitive information like personal health data.

 

All healthcare providers have a legal duty to protect patient data. And to do this, they must comply with HIPAA regulations.

 

This includes only using contact channels that are HIPPA compliant when sending protected health information (PHI).

 

As WhatsApp is a popular messaging channel that’s well-known for its end-to-end encryption, many healthcare employees might consider it a secure option for sharing data.

 

But, the question remains - is WhatsApp HIPPA compliant?

 

In this article, we’ll explore the answer to this question and more! We’ll cover:

  • What is HIPPA compliance? 
  • Why is HIPPA compliance necessary?
  • Is WhatsApp HIPAA compliant?
  • Is Talkative HIPAA compliant?

What is HIPAA compliance?

The Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act (aka. HIPAA) lays out the security regulations for protected health information.

 

HIPAA compliance applies to any organization that has access to, or deals with, personal medical data.

 

In order to be HIPAA compliant, these covered entities must ensure that they implement administrative, physical, and digital security measures to protect the confidentiality of patients.

 

Such safeguards need to protect all forms of patient data while also allowing healthcare professionals to securely share and access it.

 

By doing this, HIPAA compliance enables efficient and high-quality patient care.

Why is HIPAA compliance necessary?

In recent years, we’ve witnessed a digital transformation that has significantly increased the prevalence of computerized processes and data collection.

 

As a result, the majority of patient data is now stored electronically.

 

Although these technological advances have the bonus of increased efficiency, they also come with greater potential risk to the security and privacy of patient health information.

Case in point - in 2021, an average of 1.95 data breaches of 500 or more electronic health records were reported every single day!

 

As such, it’s crucial that HIPAA and other privacy laws exist to help ensure that patients and their data are well protected.

These regulations keep personal information secure and provide identity theft protection.

Without HIPAA rules, the civil rights of patients and their privacy would be threatened. 

Their information could easily be stolen, manipulated, or used for inappropriate purposes beyond healthcare.

 

It’s therefore imperative that all healthcare providers enforce HIPAA compliance, so that all the necessary data safeguards are fulfilled.

 

If you're using WhatsApp to speak to your European customers, it’s not just HIPAA compliance you have to consider - there’s GDPR compliance too! To learn more, take a look at our blog: How to Make WhatsApp GDPR Compliant When Talking to Customers

Is Whatsapp HIPAA compliant?

The simple answer to this question is no - WhatsApp is not a HIPAA compliant messaging app.

 

Let’s explore why that is…

 

WhatsApp is currently the most popular social media platform worldwide, with approximately two billion monthly active users.

It's a free messaging app that allows users to send SMS messages and voice notes, as well as multimedia such as images, videos, documents, etc.

 

It can also be used for making web calls or video calls, using an internet connection rather than mobile signal.

 

In order for a digital communication channel like WhatsApp to be HIPAA compliant, it must:

  • Have end-to-end encryption
  • Allow access and security controls
  • Implement audit capabilities
  • Sign a business associate agreement

1. End-to-end encryption

As we touched upon earlier, WhatsApp does fulfill the first of these requirements - it employs end-to-end encryption for all communication.

 

This is the key reason that may cause medical professionals to mistakenly think that WhatsApp is a HIPAA compliant option.

 

Encryption is, after all, a valuable security feature that prevents unwanted parties from accessing data as it's transferred from sender to recipient.

 

But, as you'll see below, encryption alone is not adequate data security from a HIPAA compliant perspective!

2. Access controls

In addition to encryption, security measures for access and authentication need to be in place.

 

Without them, no text messaging app can be considered HIPAA compliant or suitable for healthcare organizations.

 

Unfortunately, WhatApp does not currently have these access controls.

 

This means that if someone gained access to a personal device with WhatsApp installed on it, they could simply open it and view any text messages or protected health information.

Having secure access controls restricts usage to prevent these data breaches from happening. 

3. Audit controls

As well as the lack of access controls, WhatsApp also doesn’t allow for sufficient auditing.

 

This is because any messages, attachments, or other media can be permanently deleted from WhatsApp conversations with ease.

 

Thus, thorough audits can’t be carried out as there’s no way for auditors to retrieve the missing content.

The ability to conduct audits is essential for messaging apps to be HIPAA compliant.

 

4. Business Associate Agreement

In order for a business to be HIPAA compliant, it has to sign a business associate agreement (BAA) with a healthcare provider.

 

The purpose of a BAA is to set out all the security measures that will be put in place by healthcare organizations to protect their patient data. 

 

So, if WhatsApp was to be used for sharing medical data, it would have to enter into a BAA with the healthcare organization that was using it for this purpose.

 

WhatsApp is currently in no such agreement with any organization, nor is there any indication that they would sign a BAA.

 

This point alone is enough to deem WhatsApp non-compliant with HIPAA regulations.

Still interested in using WhatsApp for customers other than patients? With Talkative, you can integrate live chat with all your social media messaging channels including SMS, Whatsapp, Facebook Messenger and Twitter!

Is Talkative HIPAA compliant?

Now that we’ve covered why WhatsApp can’t be HIPAA compliant, let’s explore a software platform that can be - the Talkative solution.

Take a look at this quick recap of the HIPAA requirements and see how they can be applied to Talkative:

  1. End-to-end encryption - Talkative software encrypts all data in transit and at rest, and we use HIPAA-compliant data centers
  2. Access controls - With Talkative, you can apply a range of access and security controls, such as password policies, employee roles/permissions, authentication methods, automatic log-outs after pre-set time limits, and more!
  3. Audit controls - In line with HIPAA demands, Talkative chat solutions provide a log of agent actions and interactions that can be viewed and audited
  4. Business Associate Agreement - Talkative can work with you to sign a Business Associate Agreement (BAA) and our legal team can modify our BAA to fit your needs!

With the above in mind, Talkative can work with your healthcare organization or contact center to help implement a live chat or video chat solution that adheres to HIPAA regulations!

Want to learn more about ensuring HIPAA compliance and how Talkative can help? Be sure to check out our ultimate guide here!

The Takeaway

It’s clear that the answer to the question ‘is WhatsApp HIPAA compliant?’ is a resounding no.

 

As we’ve explored, WhatsApp simply doesn’t meet most of the requirements necessary for it to qualify as a HIPAA compliant messaging platform.

But never fear! If you’re looking for chat software that can meet your HIPAA compliant needs, we’ve got you covered.

You can book a demo with us today to experience our omnichannel messaging solution in action and ask our experts any questions you have.

So what are you waiting for? Get Talkative, today!

Want to discover in practice what Talkative can do for your healthcare organization or contact center? Start your free trial here!

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