Improved Efficiency in Healthcare Offices with AI-Powered Chatbots: A HIPAA Compliance Consideration
In recent times, healthcare offices have experienced improved efficiency in various aspects of their operations. Processes such as organizing and filing visit notes, generating physician letters for insurance claims, and delivering medical records have become quicker than ever before. This enhanced efficiency can be attributed to the utilization of generative AI technologies, particularly chatbots like ChatGPT, which are now being leveraged across multiple industries, including healthcare. However, caution must be exercised in adhering to HIPAA compliance regulations, as highlighted in a recent ScienceBlog post.
Healthcare providers and their business associates, who are subject to the Privacy and Security Rules under the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act (HIPAA), need to take specific steps before sharing protected health information (PHI) with third parties. One crucial step is determining whether the third party qualifies as a business associate. According to guidance from the Office for Civil Rights (OCR):
A ‘business associate’ is a person or entity that performs certain functions or activities that involve the use or disclosure of protected health information on behalf of, or provides services to, a covered entity… The Privacy Rule lists some of the functions or activities, as well as the particular services, that make a person or entity a business associate if the activity or service involves the use or disclosure of protected health information. The types of functions or activities that may make a person or entity a business associate include payment or healthcare operations activities, as well as other functions or activities regulated by the Administrative Simplification Rules.
Examples of business associate functions and activities include claims processing or administration, data analysis, processing or administration, utilization review, quality assurance, billing, benefit management, practice management, and repricing. Additionally, business associate services encompass legal, actuarial, accounting, consulting, data aggregation, management, administrative, accreditation, and financial functions. The definition of a business associate can be found at 45 CFR 160.103.
If the third party is classified as a business associate, sharing PHI with them necessitates the prior establishment of a business associate agreement. Moreover, it is considered a best practice to assess the cybersecurity policies and procedures of the third party. If the third party does not qualify as a business associate, in most cases, the patient’s authorization would be required to share their information, unless there is a basis under HIPAA that allows for disclosure without authorization.
With services like ChatGPT or similar offerings from third-party providers available to healthcare offices and systems, any staff member, be it a doctor, nurse, office manager, administrator, or other personnel, can set up an account (free or paid) and leverage the services of these large language model-based chatbots. These services can assist with various administrative tasks, as described earlier. The same holds true for employees of business associates who provide services to physician office customers.
The crucial question arises: Is ChatGPT or a similar service considered a business associate under HIPAA? It is possible, and it might be willing to enter into a business associate agreement. Determining the HIPAA compliance of such a service is vital when assessing the permitted use cases. These are critical considerations that any HIPAA-covered entity or business associate must make before allowing the sharing of PHI on the chatbot’s platform or similar services. Alternatively, healthcare organizations can limit the usage of these tools through policies and ensure appropriate training is provided. Employees at all levels must comprehend the data flow, especially considering how easily they can generate various documents such as patient letters or referrals.
To provide a comprehensive perspective, I approached ChatGPT and asked, I am a healthcare provider, should I share patient data on ChatGPT? The chatbot responded:
While the above information highlights the significance of AI-powered chatbots like ChatGPT in improving efficiency within healthcare offices, it underscores the need for compliance with HIPAA regulations. As healthcare providers embrace technological advancements, it is crucial to stay abreast of the regulations and ensure that patient data is handled securely and within the guidelines outlined by HIPAA. This delicate balance between efficiency and compliance is vital for the future of healthcare administration.