Slack is one of the most popular instant messaging tools for organizations of all sizes. Due to its easy interface and features, many clinics and healthcare establishments prefer to use Slack for their everyday communication.
HIPAA (Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act) is a law that guides how to protect sensitive PHI (patient health information). To conduct business securely and reduce the risk of disclosing patient personal information, healthcare providers are implementing software to ensure adherence to HIPAA regulations.
While Slack can be a valuable tool for communication in healthcare, it is important to consider whether it meets the requirements for HIPAA compliance.
In this article, we find out whether Slack is HIPAA compliant and, if not, the best alternative tools to ensure an excellent messaging experience while safeguarding patient data.
Is Slack HIPAA-compliant?
The short answer is: yes and no.
Yes — because you can modify Slack to use it HIPAA-compliantly.
At the same time, no — because not every edition of Slack automatically adheres to HIPAA standards.
Also, no tool is automatically HIPAA-compliant. The way you use it can be HIPAA-compliant. Staying compliant with HIPAA depends on human actions rather than technology.
How can you use Slack in a HIPAA-compliant way?
1. Use the Slack Enterprise Grid plan
The Slack Enterprise Grid plan is a subscription service that allows organizations to use the collaboration platform on a larger scale. This plan allows adding as many users and channels as they need to support their communication and collaboration needs.
This plan enables organizations to create shared channels between teams, departments, or business units. It includes enhanced security and compliance features to meet compliance and data protection requirements.
2. Sign BAA with Slack and 3rd party integrations providers
You must sign a Business Associate Agreement (BAA) with your tech provider to obtain a HIPAA-compliant chat. Your tech suppliers must adhere to the same guidelines and requirements as you do to protect your data if you want to be HIPAA compliant.
To sign a BAA with Slack and third-party integration providers, you will need to determine which third-party integration providers you will be working with and whether they are willing to sign a BAA with you.
3. Customize Slack for HIPAA compliance
To customize Slack for HIPAA compliance, set up user roles and permissions to ensure that only authorized users can access sensitive health information. Also, provide training to all employees on HIPAA regulations and how to handle sensitive health information in Slack.
Enable end-to-end encryption for all communication in Slack to protect sensitive information from external threats. Ensure that all devices used to access Slack are securely stored and protected through password protection, biometric authentication, and physical locks.
Tips for staying HIPAA-compliant while using Slack
As you know, staying compliant with HIPAA regulations has more to do with actions of Slack users than with the technology itself. In other words, you can adjust the software all you want, but humans can still make mistakes ending in HIPAA violations.
Still, you can introduce these practices on Slack to make the mistakes less likely to happen.
Delete old messages automatically
Within Slack, you can delete old messages automatically. This enables you to comply with HIPAA retention policy.
Also, you can set up Slack to automatically delete guest accounts after a certain period of inaction. This helps you maintain a cleaner Slack infrastructure, which is always a good practice when talking about HIPAA.
Pay attention to external guests
Pay attention when setting up guest accounts: guest users should have limited access to channels and groups (and information exchanged in them).
External guests that you connect with via Slack Connect might not be aware of HIPAA best practices and policies. Be aware of gaps in access management when setting up your Slack workspace.
Apply Slack's recommended channel naming protocols
To avoid unintentional PHI sharing, you should establish a proper channel naming guide. Why? This will allow users to more easily differentiate between private channels where PHI can be shared and discussed from channels where this type of information shouldn't be shared.
You can always use Slack's recommended channel naming conventions to achieve alignment in this area.
Assign roles and responsibilities accordingly
HIPAA compliance is impossible to achieve without clear roles and responsibilities. Slack's pre-set administrative roles differ in the scope of their freedom to manage Slack workspace. The hierarchical structure of roles as well as their limitations and responsibilities should be clear to all admin users.
Workspace Admins need to be especially well acquainted with HIPAA policies and how Slack can be set up to adhere to them, since they will be operationally involved in everyday management of the Slack workspace.
Drawbacks of using Slack for communication in healthcare
Even though Slack is a popular and beloved chat app, healthcare organizations might have to think twice before using it in their rows. Here are some of the drawbacks of using Slack in healthcare:
1. No on-premise deployment
Healthcare organizations choose software with on-premise deployment because it’s an additional security measure that gives you complete control over your patients’ data and its use. Slack and other messaging platforms are cloud-based, meaning your control over sensitive data is low. Therefore, many experts recommend using an on-premises communication platform to meet regulatory requirements.
2. Lack of airtight privacy
Slack may need to be more secure to exchange sensitive healthcare information. As per research, around 95% of the US population had their medical information revealed between 2009 and 2021. Unfortunately, Slack not being an entirely HIPAA-compliant platform means there are always scopes of compliance risks.
3. The difficulty of cross-institutional collaboration
Many clinics collaborate with labs or other clinics, and sometimes they need to exchange PHI. It’s unclear if you can set up Slack Connect (bridge to different workspaces) in a HIPAA-compliant way. Furthermore, Slack may fail to meet the level of security and control that some healthcare organizations require while collaborating.
4. You cannot communicate with patients securely via Slack
Slack is designed for team communication and collaboration. The HIPAA-compliant setup you can create does not extend beyond your organization (and your partners via Slack Connect), meaning that you cannot communicate with patients via Slack, at least not in a HIPAA-compliant way.
5. No integrated DLP
DLP or Data Loss Prevention is a set of processes and tools that classifies confidential data and identifies violations of pre-defined HIPAA policies. Slack does not have an integrated DLP tool, so you'd have to deploy a third-party DLP solution.
To avoid these issues, we have put together a list of the top 5 alternatives to Slack for HIPAA-compliant messaging that enable teams in healthcare enterprises to communicate with clients in a secure and private environment.
5 best alternatives to Slack for healthcare organizations
Rocket.Chat is a HIPAA-compliant texting solution that poses a better alternative to Slack because:
1. it can be used for patient communication as well as team collaboration, and
2. it entails superior security features.
The biggest difference between Slack and Rocket.Chat is that you can use the latter for both patient communication and internal team collaboration. With its contextual interactions, Rocket.Chat's omnichannel customer collaboration enables patients to communicate healthcare providers through various channels such as WhatsApp, email, and others.
As an alternative to Slack in healthcare, Rocket.Chat's security bundle includes a DLP app that includes several controls preventing sensitive data to be lost or misused. Rocket.Chat can be deployed on-premise, making it a highly secure messaging app for healthcare organizations.
Last but not least, Rocket.Chat employs Matrix federation protocol, which enables HIPAA-compliant cross-institutional collaboration between clinics, labs, insurers, and others. Its flexibility and integrations allow it to be tailored to meet compliance demands for secure healthcare communication.
OhMD makes a great point about the benefits of using HIPAA-compliant messaging as a patient communication software. Patients can communicate with their healthcare providers, schedule appointments, and access their health information. It can be done through a secure platform that meets HIPAA requirements to protect personal health information.
If you're a healthcare professional looking for a HIPAA-compliant messaging platform, this medical chat is an excellent option to consider.
Revenue Well is an all-in-one Dental Marketing Platform. Its messaging feature allows healthcare providers to communicate with their patients and other care team members in a secure and compliant manner.
In comparison to Slack, it offers more functionalities that are specific to dental practices, making it a great niche choice.
It enables healthcare providers to improve patient engagement and streamline their workflow.
Trillian is a secure patient chat popular among healthcare-related businesses. It has been assisting people in maintaining secure connections for over 20 years. Trillian offers businesses and healthcare professionals of all sizes safe (and HIPAA-compliant) communication.
A giant in the healthcare area, Trillian is a safe choice to make when choosing a HIPAA-compliant alternative to Slack.
Luma Health is a healthcare technology company offering a HIPAA-compliant messaging platform. It allows healthcare providers to communicate with patients and other healthcare professionals in a secure and compliant manner.
Because of its self-scheduling platform, Luma Health can lower its customers' no-show rates and cancellations. It includes features like secure messaging, appointment scheduling, and automated reminders, all designed to improve the patient experience and increase efficiency.
What's the best way to go?
As HIPAA compliance is of supreme importance, healthcare providers and clinics must consider privacy, control, and affordability while choosing a suitable communication channel. Even though it's a great team communication tool for teams, Slack is not the best suited software for healthcare organizations.
Rocket.Chat’s open-source technology, on-premise deployment, and capability of consistent collaboration following HIPAA regulations make it an ideal choice for the healthcare industry. By implementing additional security measures, Rocket.Chat increases operational effectiveness for organizations involved in the healthcare industry.
Get in touch with our team to learn more about Rocket.Chat's HIPAA-compliant messaging software.
Frequently asked questions about <anything>
Slack's HIPAA compliance
Is Slack HIPAA compliant?
Can you communicate with patients over Slack?
Is free Slack version HIPAA-compliant?
Can you prevent HIPAA breaches if you adjust Slack to be HIPAA-compliant?
- Digital sovereignty
- Federation capabilities
- Scalable and white-labeled
- Highly scalable and secure
- Full patient conversation history
- Digital sovereignty
- Trusted by National Geospatial-Intelligence Agency (NGA), the US Army, the US Navy, and the US Air Force
- Matrix federation capabilities
- Open source code
- Highly secure and scalable
- Unmatched flexibility
- End-to-end encryption
- Cloud or on-prem deployment
- Supports compliance with HIPAA, GDPR, FINRA, and more
- Supports compliance with HIPAA, GDPR, FINRA, and more
- Highly secure and flexible
- On-prem or cloud deployment