Dental clinics, doctor offices, hospitals, and other medical practices are obligated to protect the private, personal information of their patients. This is regulated by the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act (HIPAA), which dictates how this personal information can be stored and managed.
To manage patients’ Protected Health Information (PHI), these practices have started to adopt intuitive, automated patient scheduling software. These solutions let you manage patient appointments at your practice, and in some cases, even empower your patients to schedule appointments themselves.
To make sure that you adhere to HIPAA guidelines, we break down everything you need to know and then compare the best dental scheduling software on the market.
- What is HIPAA compliance + how to manage Protected Health Information(PHI)?
- What HIPAA-compliant scheduling guidelines do you need to follow?
- HIPAA patient scheduling software checklist
- Common features of HIPAA-compliant patient scheduling software
- 6 HIPAA-compliant scheduling software that let patients book themselves
- 5 HIPAA-compliant patient scheduling software for internal scheduling
- 3 free HIPAA-compliant patient scheduling software to save you money
Before we get into the best appointment scheduling software, we’ll discuss what HIPAA compliance is and the guidelines you’ll need to follow.
What is HIPAA compliance + how to manage Protected Health Information(PHI)?
The Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act of 1996 (HIPAA) is a US federal law that hospitals, insurance companies, and healthcare providers have to follow to protect and secure the Protected Health Information (PHI) of their patients.
By nature, PHI is extremely sensitive information, as it contains people’s personal healthcare data. Under HIPAA, all healthcare providers are required to safeguard and keep this information confidential. People required to maintain HIPAA compliance include individuals in the healthcare field, such as doctors, nurses, and insurance providers, and certain individuals working in non-healthcare capacities, such as lawyers, accountants, and administrators.
The most important aspects of HIPAA are the privacy and security of health information, notification of breaches of medical records, and the right to obtain other copies of healthcare data. As a healthcare provider that has all HIPAA compliance requirements in place to protect patient data, patients will trust and rely on you, allowing you to grow and sustain your business.
Essential software guidelines to follow for HIPAA compliance
To be HIPAA compliant, organizations must follow HIPAA requirements and guidelines. Under the HIPAA Security Rule, any entity and business associated with access to PHI must ensure that technical, physical, and administrative safeguards are in place and followed.
The HIPAA Privacy Rule dictates how PHI can be used and disclosed by those that can access it. If a breach does occur, companies and workers are required to follow the procedure in the HIPAA Breach Notification Rule.
The HIPAA Security Rule: how to safeguard PHI data
The HIPAA Security Rule sets the standards that must be followed for safeguarding PHI that organizations create, access, process, or store. There are three parts to this HIPAA Security Rule, as covered below.
There are also two classes of safeguards: required and addressable. Required safeguards must be implemented; while addressable safeguards do not need to be implemented if it is not reasonable to implement. For addressable safeguards, companies can choose to introduce an alternative or may opt not to use a safeguard at all.
1. Technical Safeguards
The Technical Safeguards dictate the technology needed to protect ePHI. The only absolute requirement is that all ePHI (whether stored or in transit) must be encrypted to NIST standards when beyond the organization's internal firewalled servers. This ensures that if a breach does occur, the data is unreadable and cannot be used.
Aside from this, organizations can choose whichever means they would like to perform the following under HIPAA.
- Implement a means of access control
- Introduce activity logs and audit controls
- Introduce a mechanism to authenticate ePHI
- Implement tools for encryption and decryption
- Facilitate automatic log-off of PCs and devices
2. Physical Safeguards
The Physical Safeguards involve physical access to ePHI, whether that is in-person, remotely, or through cloud interfaces. This also provides best practices for setting up workstations and mobile devices for proper compliance.
- Policies for the use/positioning of workstations
- Policies and procedures for mobile devices
- Facility access controls must be implemented
- Inventory of hardware
3. Administrative Safeguards
The Administrative Safeguards mesh the Privacy Rule and Security Rule of HIPAA, ensuring that someone is responsible for maintaining HIPAA compliance. It requires that a security officer and privacy officer be assigned to establish measures for protecting ePHI, while also managing compliance with these policies from employees.
To do this, responsible parties must regularly maintain HIPAA compliance using the administrative safeguards below:
- Conducting risk assessments
- Introducing a risk management policy
- Developing a contingency plan
- Restricting third-party access
- Training employees to be secure
- Testing of contingency plan
- Reporting security incidents
The HIPAA Privacy Rule: how to use and share PHI
The HIPAA Privacy Rule, established in 2003, governs the use and disclosure of PHI without patient authorization. It also extends rights to patients regarding their health information, such as the right to obtain a copy of their health records and to request corrections. Organizations must respond to such requests within 30 days.
To ensure that this is followed, employees must be properly trained on how to manage and use PHI, ensure that there are steps in place to maintain the integrity of PHI, and gain written permission from patients prior to using health information for marketing, fundraising, or research purposes.
In order to do this, you need to familiarize yourself with the good, the bad, and the ugly.
HIPAA Compliance: Examples of Good, Bad, and UGLY
The Good: This is an example of a good email. There’s no protected health information (PHI) in the subject line, which would be considered publicly viewable. The email is addressed to one person, and that recipient can’t see the emails of any other patients - email addresses are also considered PHI. The patient’s first name is given and a link is provided to test results in another portal. If you’re using a properly encrypted service to send this, you would be taking reasonable precautions to send this compliant email.
The Bad: This email is addressed to one person and doesn’t specify a type of appointment in the subject line. However, last names are included in PHI. Subject lines should be considered something that can be seen by anyone. We don’t recommend including last names in subject lines. Instead, you could say, “Hi Kate, it’s time to schedule your next appointment”
The Ugly: This email gets one thing right. It addresses the patient by first name only in the subject line, which would not be considered protected health information However, the recipients can see each other’s emails, as well as information on the purpose for an intended future visit. Sharing any PHI with an unintended recipient is a HIPAA violation.
HIPAA Compliant Scheduling Software Checklist
To help you identify whether your patient scheduling software is HIPAA compliant, go through the HIPAA compliance checklist below:
Can your tool ensure encryption in transit and at rest?
Any Protected Health Information (PHI) you send needs to be encrypted in transit and at rest. This isn’t the easiest question to answer, because “at rest” can mean a lot of things, including in physical storage, backups, virtual machines, and databases. “Transit” can also mean a lot of things, including paths originating everywhere from the database to API servers and ending everywhere from app servers to the end user’s clients, including mobile devices. In short, encryption can be a very complex subject, so simply asking about encryption isn’t going to solve your problem. Whatever vendor you go with should be able to explain how their particular tool encrypts data at rest and in transit.
Does the tool offer unique IDs for each medical professional using it?
Every medical professional who uses the technology needs to have a unique identifier as a user so that their activities with PHI are monitored. If there is a HIPAA violation or a data breach, what you want to be able to do is pinpoint the problem quickly to prevent more mistakes from happening. If you can’t quickly and easily identify the source of the problem because everyone has the same ID or users share IDs, that will slow down your problem-solving. Make sure that each user of your system has a unique ID.
Does the solution have automatic log-off when someone in your practice isn’t using it?
Any technology used needs to have an automatic log-off when not being used to prevent unauthorized access from mobile or desktop devices. Even if you have unique IDs for everyone at your practice, someone may be forgetful and not log out of their machine. Then the next person may come along, see an open computer, and start working on it without logging out and back in. The best way to prevent this is to have a tool that offers automatic log-off after a certain period of inactivity.
Is the tool easy to use, or does it require additional downloads of software or new logins for your patients?
Beyond security, you want to make sure what you choose is user-friendly. Any time you increase the burden on the patient to figure out a new tool that you’ve brought to your practice, the lower the adoption rate will be among your patients. Your best bet is to introduce something that works without logins and takes patients exactly where they need to be for things like bill pay and telemedicine appointments. Lower the barrier to usage wherever possible without sacrificing patient safety.
Common features of HIPAA compliant scheduling software
For this post, we are focusing exclusively on HIPAA-compliant patient scheduling software, and all of the solutions covered enable patient bookings. It’s important to note that scheduling is not the only solution necessary for medical practices that need to maintain HIPAA compliance.
You can shop around for multiple solutions, or attempt to get a comprehensive solution that has all of your practice management needs. Below, we highlight common features to look for in the best dental scheduling software.
- HIPAA compliance: This should go without saying, but any patient scheduling software you choose needs to be HIPAA compliant.
- Online patient booking: Patients are able to book appointments themselves online, without having to talk to a representative. Statistics show that patients are more likely to book same-day and next-day services this way, filling up otherwise wasted time slots.
- Internal scheduling: Your administrative team can book patients internally, but your patients are not able to book their own appointments.
- Practice management software integration: Any great scheduling software will easily integrate with your other practice management solutions so that you can effectively manage your practice with ease.
- Automated reminders and notifications: Remind your team members and patients about upcoming appointments using reminders and notifications that automatically go out.
- Customer support: Ensure the service has customer support so that you can troubleshoot any issues you have and easily get back up and running.
When deciding on the platform for you, be sure to consider and compare the features above. You don’t want to skip on essential features that will help you acquire and retain patients!
6 HIPAA-compliant scheduling software that let patients book themselves
Giving your patients the ability to schedule their own appointments will save your administrative team time and effort, while also improving the user experience for your patients. Below, we highlight the top patient scheduling systems for booking appointments online.
Best for: Guaranteed to see positive ROI in one month
Free Trial: No
NexHealth is a one-of-a-kind patient experience platform that helps patients convert. Built for doctors and dentists, NexHealth offers EHR-integrated real-time scheduling, patient communication, and digital paperwork management. Doctors can give their patients an easy end-to-end digital experience, while developers can just access the one API that will help them integrate with multiple EHR and dental systems, enabling quick product deployment.
- White glove onboarding, connecting you and your staff with their team of experts to launch and make their system fully functional in under one month.
- Integration with your practice management system to improve interoperability.
- Unlimited customer support.
- In-app reporting and analytics to track patient volume, appointment confirmations, and other key metrics relevant to the growth of your practice.
- Open healthcare API to allow for customization.
- Participate in beta tests for new services and earn cash when referring colleagues to the NexHealth community.
Cost: $14 - $45/month
Best for: Clients can schedule appointments on their own
Free Trial: 7 days
Acuity Scheduling is an online assistant that works for businesses as an appointment scheduler. Businesses can manage multiple locations and employees and have all client information in one place, which is HIPAA compliant.
- Appointment confirmations, reminders, and follow-up emails are sent on your behalf.
- Customize everything to match your branding.
- Embed scheduler into your website for easy access.
- It can integrate with 500+ apps through Zapier.
- Upsell clients with ease using the check-out add-ons.
- Pipedrive integration for sales/CRM.
Cost: Free - $59.90/month
Best for: Accept bookings from multiple channels such as Facebook, Instagram, Google Maps booking, and more
Free Trial: 14 days
SimplyBook.me is an online booking system for all service-based industries that allow businesses to display their availability for clients to book their next appointment and pay through their credit card without any hassle. Businesses can also set up video meetings to seamlessly execute any virtual appointments or internal team discussions that they may have.
- Clients can make their bookings online and receive notifications via SMS/email.
- Both clients and Admin have their own app interface.
- Integrations & API for Facebook, Instagram, Google My Business.
- Offer coupons and gift cards to clients.
- Businesses can choose from 17 customizable website templates for their business or booking widgets that they can add to their existing website.
Cost: Free - $40/month
Best for: Integrations available with Zoom, Facebook Mailchimp, and over 1500 other apps
Free Trial: No
10to8 is an appointment scheduling software that helps businesses communicate with their clients efficiently, reducing no-shows and effectively managing time-consuming admin tasks. They also have access to powerful reporting that includes a live dashboard and the ability to generate custom reports to understand key metrics that help make better business decisions.
- Live 2-Way Calendar sync.
- Approve appointments manually or automatically.
- Clients can book multiple appointments at the same time.
- Customizable calendar view.
- Secure and easy payment processing via Stripe.
- Customize with your own branding.
- Free WordPress plugin.
Cost: Free - $9/user/month
Best for: Book unlimited appointments on the free plan
Free Trial: No
Setmore is a free scheduling software that helps you organize your business with 24/7 automated online bookings, reminders, and payments.
- Send customized and recurring notifications, emails, and SMS reminders.
- Easy access on iOS and Android App.
- Custom booking page with unique URL.
- Analytics and CRM integrations.
- Accept customer payments on Square, PayPal, and Stripe.
- Google and Office 365 2-way sync.
- Social media integrations allow clients to book directly from Facebook and Instagram.
Cost: $39 - $79/month
Best for: Daily recap every morning to view all the bookings and cancellations from the last 24 hours
Free Trial: 14 days
FlexBooker is an online appointment scheduling tool that makes booking appointments and employee calendar syncing easy and efficient. With automatic reminders and customization to take complete control over the look and feel of your website, FlexBooker fully integrates with Google Calendar, Microsoft 365, Outlook, and Apple Calendar.
- Easy to install on your website.
- Take online credit card payments at the same time while booking appointments or authorize the credit card for a no-show fee in case your customer doesn't show up.
- Client Management Metrics to keep track of critical data about employees and clients.
- Online video meeting integrations.
5 best hipaa compliant appointment scheduling software for your internal patient scheduling system
Patient scheduling is becoming more widespread and essential to delivering a high-quality patient experience (43% of patients prefer to book their medical appointments online). Should you decide that internal scheduling functionality is right for your practice, we have a curated list of internal scheduling software.
Cost: $49 - $399/month
Best for: Connect with 32 other apps for customer feedback, bookings, exercises
Free Trial: 30 days
Cliniko is a practice management system for clinics and other health practitioners. Along with providing free online chat and email support, Cliniko also donates 2% of their subscription fee to charities that work towards making a tangible difference in people’s lives that need it.
- Clean and organized appointments calendar.
- Store treatment notes and health records on custom-built templates from any device.
- Report and track the performance of your business.
- Send SMS messages to your clients.
- Easily import and export your data.
Cost: Free - £299/month
Best for: Two-factor authentication and secure messaging to keep your account 100% safe
Free Trial: Yes
EasyPractice is an online scheduling software specifically designed for medical practitioners and specialists that helps them manage day-to-day operations with ease. Practitioners can set up classes and events with easy sign-up forms and journals for their clients to which they can add files and photos.
- SMS reminders.
- Google Analytics.
- Schedule video meetings.
- Integrates with Zapier.
- Online courses, surveys, waiting lists, and secure messaging for an additional cost.
- 100% GDPR compliant.
Cost: Free - $250/month
Best for: One-click schedule generator
Free Trial: 2 months
Meshai is an online scheduling tool for medical clinics, physician groups, and hospitals that lets everyone see that their schedules are designed to fairly reduce adoption issues and staff complaints. To learn about the features of the tool, practitioners can register for a free webinar that explains it in great detail.
- Scheduling templates to choose from for your practice.
- Schedule your physicians, nurses, medical residents, and other staff’s vacation and time-off requests.
- Calendar integrations with iCal, Outlook, and Google.
- Conveniently access Meshai App on your iOS or Android device.
- Schedule-dependent messaging.
Cost: $25 - $85/month
Best for: Automated live streaming to create virtual classes or one-on-one sessions to reach a global audience
Free Trial: 1 month
Vagaro is a scheduling app that allows businesses to schedule their services for clients and staff, set up reminders, and sell their products and packages. To understand their customers better and grow their practice, businesses can access the dashboard and reports to get key insights and metrics.
- Clients can schedule their appointment according to their convenience.
- Get bookings from Vagaro App, Vagaro.com, Yelp, Instagram, Facebook, or on your website via Vagaro’s booking widget.
- Customers automatically receive links to join live streams via email, text, and push notifications.
- Create liability waivers, intake forms, and surveys from scratch or using an already existing template.
- Manage multiple calendars on the same screen.
- Process payments from any device by integrating Vagaro's hardware system.
Cost: $49 - $199/month
Best for: 24/7 cloud-based access to your schedule
Free Trial: No
AppointmentPlus caters specifically to medical offices and clinics with the aim to run their practice more efficiently, allowing the staff to do more than just scheduling on the phone. Having complete control over the booking system, with regular email and text reminders, patients are always kept in the loop, leading to reduced no-shows.
- Email appointment notifications.
- Website and Facebook calendar integration.
- Robust reporting to track customer metrics, product purchasing trends, and no-show rates.
3 free HIPAA compliant scheduling software for a low budget
Depending on the size and complexity of your practice, you may be able to get by with a free alternative. While these solutions will have limited functionality, they may meet your essential HIPAA compliance needs.
Best for: Integrates with your existing system by offering an API through which all your data can be kept in sync
Free Trial: No
DocMeIn is a free and easy to set-up online service for healthcare providers to schedule patient appointments. There is no limit on the number of patients, appointments, reminders, recalls, and patients, and no software to set up.
- Color-coded calendar.
- Recurring appointments.
- Set up each providers’ hours, breaks, and scheduling exceptions.
- Patient self-service.
- Appointment reminders.
- Add unlimited providers to your practice account, set up services that you offer, and assign them to the providers that practice them.
Cost: Free - $49.95/month
Best for: PHI-based audit tracking
Free Trial: No
Practicesuite is an end-to-end cloud-based patient care platform that helps in connecting, collaborating, and collecting patient data. Their robust system helps build credibility among clients, prevent cyberattacks and be compliant.
- Multiple user collaboration.
- Encrypted emails and secure file storage.
- Shared tasks and to-do lists.
- Shared calendars and events.
- Sub-groups for teams and departments.
Cost: $19.95 - $79.95/month
Best for: Offer packages and gift certificates to clients
Free Trial: 14 days
Booksteam is online scheduling software that enables you to work efficiently and focus on growing your business by automating your bookings. Clients can book their appointments with or without creating a free BookSteam account.
- Personalize client notifications.
- Manage your client database.
- Design your booking page for your brand.
- Sync personal calendars with Booksteam to see all your calendars in one view.
- Process credit cards online.
- Schedule courses and workshops.
- Online video meeting scheduling.
- Get bookings via Facebook.
The Best HIPAA compliant appointment scheduling software
Now that you know how to adhere to HIPAA compliance standards and guidelines, you should be able to effectively maintain your patients’ personal health records. Use the checklist to determine whether you need to follow HIPAA or not, and then learn what guidelines are required.
For a solution specifically designed for doctors and dentists, check out NexHealth’s patient experience platform. It’s HIPAA compliant and offers EHR-integrated real-time online scheduling, patient communications, digital paperwork, and more.
Give your patients the convenience to book appointments online without compromising on the safety and security of their information! Learn how NexHealth can help by booking a demo.