Notice of Privacy Practices (NPP)

As the telemedicine industry grows, the demand for telehealth apps is multiplying rapidly, providing patients with convenient access to medical care from the comfort of their homes. But that convenience for patients comes with a challenge for telehealth providers: health data privacy. A Notice of Privacy Practices (NPP) informs users how their health information is collected, processed, stored, and used.

When building telemedicine apps, understanding how NPPs impact the design and development of your app will provide a strategic opportunity to build trust and loyalty with users while meeting regulatory demands.

What Is an NPP in Healthcare?

An NPP explains to patients, employees, and clients exactly how the telehealth provider will manage their health data. It also outlines users' privacy rights over their Protected Health Information (PHI).

An NPP is required by the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act (HIPAA), which sets the standards for how health information can be used and shared by healthcare providers and their associates.

For instance, both a doctor who offers online consultations to patients through a telemedicine app and the telemedicine app provider that handles the video calls and stores the patients' PHI would be covered by HIPAA.

NPPs are critical in fulfilling HIPAA requirements by outlining the app's privacy policies and procedures. Product managers must work closely with legal and compliance teams to ensure that the NPPs align with HIPAA standards, thereby mitigating the risk of regulatory penalties and reputational damage.

Telemedicine apps should leverage NPPs to showcase their commitment to data security and patient privacy, earning a reputation as a trusted and responsible healthcare service provider.

When Should an NPP Be Provided to the Patient?

The U.S. Department of Human and Health Services guidelines require healthcare organizations to give patients an NPP by the time the patient first uses their services. This means that patients should receive the NPP when they register for a telemedicine app or when they first visit a provider who uses the app.

In an emergency, the health provider should give the patient the NPP and get their signature as soon as possible after the emergency has ended.

The NPP should also be updated and given to patients whenever the organization changes its privacy practices. For instance, the NPP should reflect any changes, like sharing patient information with new entities or modifying the process for handling patient complaints.

The NPP must also be accessible upon request to anyone and prominently displayed on any website that offers information about customer services or benefits.

What Information Must Be Included in an NPP?

According to the Code of Federal Regulations (CFR), an NPP needs to include the following information.

  • A header that states, "This notice describes how medical information about you may be used and disclosed and how you can get access to this information. Please review it carefully."
  • How the healthcare provider and their associates may use and disclose PHI about a person and for what purposes, such as treatment, payment, operations, marketing, and research.
  • The person's rights over their PHI.
  • The healthcare provider and their associates' legal responsibilities and privacy practices for protecting PHI
  • The details of someone who can be contacted for more information about the privacy policies or a patient's rights.
  • The effective date of the notice.

How To Create and Distribute an NPP for Your Telemedicine App Users

A well-crafted NPP is essential for any telemedicine app that collects or shares patient health information. Here are some steps to follow when creating an NPP for your telemedicine app.

Step 1: Identify Applicable Privacy Laws and Regulations

Before creating an NPP, review the state and federal laws and regulations that apply to your telemedicine app, such as HIPAA, the HITECH Act, the 21st Century Cures Act, and state-specific telehealth laws. Complying with these laws ensures that you are handling user data ethically and legally.

Step 2: Draft the NPP

Creating an effective NPP requires clear and concise language that is easily understandable by the average user. It should contain the following essential components:

  • Introduction: Start by briefly explaining your telemedicine app's purpose and commitment to user privacy.
  • Data collection: Detail the types of PHI your app collects, such as name, contact information, medical history, and other relevant data.
  • Data use: Outline how you will use the collected information, such as for medical consultations, appointment reminders, or improving app functionality.
  • Data sharing: Inform users about instances where their PHI may be shared with third parties, like healthcare providers or insurance companies, and the purpose of such sharing.
  • User rights: Clarify the rights of your app users, including the right to access, update, and request the deletion of their data.
  • Data security: Explain the security measures taken to protect user data from unauthorized access, breaches, and other potential risks.
  • Contact information: Provide the contact details of someone users can talk to if they have questions, concerns, or requests regarding their privacy rights.

Once the NPP is drafted, it should be reviewed by legal experts or professionals who are well-versed in data protection and healthcare laws. This review will help ensure that your NPP aligns with the applicable regulations and accurately reflects your app's privacy practices.

Step 4: Distribute and Communicate

After finalizing the NPP, make it easily accessible to your telemedicine app users. Here's how to effectively distribute and communicate the NPP:

  • In-app display: Display the NPP prominently within the app. Users should be able to access it easily, preferably with a single click from the main screen or user profile.
  • Consent: Require users to give explicit consent to the NPP before accessing or using the app's services.
  • Website: Publish the NPP on your website or a dedicated privacy page so users have another way to access it.
  • Regular updates: Keep the NPP up-to-date and notify users of any significant changes to the policy. You must inform users and allow them to accept the updated terms.

Frequently Asked Questions

How can I update and revise my NPP if I change my privacy practices or policies?

If you make changes to your privacy practices or policies, it's crucial to update your NPP and keep patients informed. You can do this by:

  • Providing patients with a new copy of the NPP
  • Including a link to the updated NPP on your website
  • Notifying patients of the changes through email, push notifications, or text messages

How can I ensure that my telemedicine app is compliant with the HIPAA Privacy Rule and the NPP?

To ensure HIPAA compliance for your telemedicine app, follow these steps:

  • Adhere to the HIPAA Privacy Rule requirements for protecting, using, and disclosing PHI in your app.
  • Implement strong security measures, such as encryption and access control, to safeguard PHI in compliance with HIPAA regulations, reducing the risk of data breaches and unauthorized access.
  • Enable the monitoring and auditing of all data activities with detailed logs and analytics, including messages and reactions.

What are some tools that can help me create and manage an NPP for my telemedicine app?

Stream provides APIs and SDKs that enable product managers to create engaging and scalable chat as a service and activity feed applications for their telemedicine app. With Stream, you can distribute your NPP to users via chat or an activity feed and obtain an acknowledgment of receipt from users through a simple click or tap.

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