The Illinois Coalition Against Sexual Assault (ICASA) envisions a world free of sexual violence. Its network of rape crisis centers provides 24-hour crisis intervention services, counseling and advocacy for victims of sexual assault and their significant others.
ICASA centers needed a secure, private chat system to provide their counselors and advocates a safe way to connect with victims via one-to-one text, video or audio-based chats.
By law, ICASA is required to adhere to the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act (HIPAA), which outlines the standard for sensitive patient data protection.
As a result, building a secure messaging platform to serve ICASA’s counselors, their respective clients, and the organization’s administrators was our utmost concern and priority.
During the discovery phase, we evaluated a few video platforms and third-party services. We needed an application that could facilitate scheduling and provide real-time text, audio, and video connections. Ultimately, we decided that a custom developed web application would be the best approach for ICASA.
For our core development stack, we chose the Laravel PHP framework. Laravel provides an expressive and elegant solution for building custom web applications, and it is a platform we’ve used extensively for other projects.
We also decided that Twilio was the best solution for providing a private and secure video and audio chat experience. Through our integration with Twilio’s powerful APIs, we were able to leverage their large infrastructure with high stability and flexibility.
Twilio’s programmable video platform allowed us to build a custom platform using WebRTC, which is supported across major browsers and devices.
Custom Chat Messaging Interface and System
Each client has a communication style that they’re comfortable with, so it was important to build a custom interface that allows for text, audio and/or video-based messaging between counsellors and clients.
To provide clients with a seamless experience, the chat is web-based with no app download required. The chat application works on both desktop and mobile browsers. We added a tech check function to help users set up before their chat.
Privacy and Security
The conversation between a counsellor and client must be completely confidential. The chat is only viewable by the users involved in the chat. During the chat and for as long as the chat messages are stored, the messages are encrypted and stored to prevent unintended access. The chat history is immediately purged from the system once the chat ends.
Centers and Counselors
ICASA has the ability to add multiple centers and counselors to the system. Each counselor is provided with their own login, so that they can schedule and start pre-scheduled chats with their clients. When scheduling, counselors can choose a date and time, as well as the type of chat they’d like to create. Additional options for notifying the participants are also included.
In addition to managing Center and Counselor accounts, ICASA admins can view reports about the chat sessions. To protect privacy, ICASA is not able to view any personally identifiable client information or have access to any of the chat details.
Scaling the Solution
The initial chat application allowed for one-to-one chats between a counselor and their client. After rolling out the new application to their centers and collecting feedback, ICASA determined that some additional features would be beneficial. Primarily a screen sharing function and for audio/video chats to accommodate up to 50 participants. This allows their chat system to be used for additional cases.
Twilio’s API and custom implementation provides the chat system flexibility and security as ICASA’s needs evolve.
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