Can Healthcare Staff Work From Home?
In today’s workplace, more employees are working from home (WFH) than ever before. In fact, regular work-from-home has grown 173% since 2005, with 43% of workers being remote on a frequent basis.
Benefits of Working From Home
Based on studies representing a mix of other organizations, WFH programs show tremendous potential for healthcare organizations as well. Benefits such as lower rates of staff burnout, increased care coordination efficiency, and higher patient revenues all seem possible through the adoption of remote work environments.
But working from home doesn’t apply to the healthcare industry, right? After all, healthcare professionals have to see patients in person to adhere with HIPAA-mandated patient privacy and information security requirements. They must also navigate archaic communications technologies that require on-site-only access and utilization.
How Healthcare Staff Can Start Working From Home
Well, the good news is that some healthcare staff can absolutely work from home, provide patient service support, and comply with industry regulations. However, providers must evaluate the specific roles that can effectively work remotely, set clear expectations, and enable them with the right tools and technology to do so. So, how does a healthcare organization get started?
1. Identify Your Healthcare Staffing Needs
Many healthcare workers support patients but don’t treat them directly. Staff focused on patient intake coordination, utilization and claims management, medical records management, community relations, marketing, and many other functions make excellent candidates for remote workers. What about direct care staff? Field-based home health nurses, after-hours or on-call staff, tele-triage nurses, and staff training and education leaders are all roles that can also fit a work-from-home profile.
Additionally, many providers have added telehealth to their services-using live video to diagnose and triage patients. By using telehealth, physicians assess most patients online and only show up to the office for more acute patients. So, YES! Even physicians can perform most of their work at home while still offering patients the services they deserve. And all it takes is the right video meeting solution to get started.
2. Arm Remote Staff With Secure Technology
To ensure that remote workers maintain the organization’s HIPAA compliance, their communication, collaboration, and computing tools must protect electronic personal health information (ePHI), proprietary data, and the facility’s network. This MUST also include any ePHI that would be exchanged over common communications and collaboration technologies like voice, video, fax, or messaging apps.
For staff that will have direct access to electronic health record systems, they will need to authenticate through virtual private networks (VPN). Additionally, all devices and apps should be encrypted and password protected (with two-factor authentication) as an added security measure. Remote employees have to do their due diligence, too. Personal devices that access ePHI should always be kept up to date with the latest security software, and those devices should never be used by friends or family.
To keep employees working together remotely as they would in person, use cloud-based communications systems that have been certified by third parties for security compliance. The HITRUST CSF certification is the most commonly utilized risk management framework in the healthcare industry. The solution should include team messaging, voice, and video meetings all under the same platform, as well as prioritize patient confidentiality in accordance with HIPAA regulations. This will ensure that staff members can seamlessly stay connected and exchange ePHI even between the facility and dispersed home office locations.
3. Put Together a Work-From-Home Policy
Staff members-especially those who have spent the majority of their careers in the healthcare field-may not be familiar with WFH best practices, etiquette, and policies. For example, certain members might not have the technical knowledge to understand not to access ePHI records on a public WiFi network or know the importance of shredding paper PHI at home.
You’ll want to clearly lay out expectations for your staff when they work remotely. Explicitly state what you expect them to do that may differ from what they normally do while working on site. For instance, specify which technologies employees can use at home that won’t jeopardize patient information, and prohibit workers from printing any work-related documents at home. They can use a form of ediscovery software to access these as and when they need, but they do not need to make copies. Additionally, employees should adhere to a media sanitation policy on proper PHI disposal and never copy PHI to any external media.
The best way to enforce these rules is by establishing and clearly communicating remote and mobile work policies. Have remote workers sign an agreement with these rules listed and mandate that they stick to them or face civil and criminal penalties.
Once you’re sure your technologies and employees fully support your HIPAA compliance, your facility can start implementing work from home for all staff members.
Work Remotely at Your Own Pace
Remember, every healthcare organization is unique, and what works for one provider’s staff might not necessarily work for yours. Learn from your experience, and fine-tune your approach to find a WFH balance that works best for you and your staff.