Telehealth is a remote healthcare service offered via telecommunication technology. It allows medical professionals to provide care without the need for office visits. For instance, healthcare providers can assess symptoms, diagnose, and treat by sending prescriptions or referrals through a verified telehealth system. This article will discuss methods to secure your patients’ privacy while using telehealth, HIPAA compliance, security testing tools for telehealth platforms, and more.
Telehealth has proven to be a necessity for patients and healthcare providers following an isolating pandemic. As long as there is access to a computer, laptop, or smartphone with a secure internet connection, telehealth services are available. This greatly improved patient and provider communication and increased access to health care.
Following the success of telehealth, policies were created to guarantee and safeguard patients’ personal information over the Internet. It’s essential for healthcare providers to ensure all communications are secured. Safe delivery of health and medical information via telehealth provides reassurance to patients that their private information is secure.
Why Securing Patient’s Privacy Is Crucial
Telehealth extends health care into the home. With technology advancing daily, patients can receive online prescriptions and medical professionals are able to monitor vitals and symptoms without a physical checkup. For example, remote patient monitoring (RPM) devices can track and record heart rate, blood pressure, temperature, and more.
Video and phone calls, messaging, and remote monitoring are just a few ways telehealth bridges the gap in patient-provider remote communication. However, the constant online transmission of private patient information increases the risk of security breaches.
Security breaches within the healthcare system are an ongoing issue that has left patients and healthcare providers on edge. From email phishing scams to viruses and malware, data breaches are easier than ever.
According to healthcare data breach statistics, over 342 million patient records were illegally accessed between 2009 and 2022. Security breaches can significantly affect patient care, lengthening hospital stays, interfering with medical procedures, and increasing patient mortality rates. This is why securing patient privacy is important.
How to Secure Patients’ Privacy While Using Telehealth
The Health Insurance Portability and Accounting Act, or HIPAA, is a federal law developed by the Department of Health and Human Services. It outlines standards that protect the privacy and security of health and medical information.
Although these protections are law, it is the responsibility of the professional to comply with the proper steps. Educating oneself on HIPAA compliance and patient protection can help prevent unintentional HIPAA violations and private data exposure.
Ensuring the privacy and confidentiality of patients is paramount. To increase security and ensure your patients’ information remains private, you can follow the steps below with every telehealth visit:
- Verify a HIPAA-compliant Environment: This should be a private location where others cannot hear the private discussion with your patient.
- Confirm Secure or Private Internet Access: Avoid places with large crowds or public Wi-Fi and use NordVPN services for a secure connection.
- Obtain an Unshared Computer: Refrain from utilizing a family-shared computer or tablet and use a device designated for professional use only.
- Secure All Patient Files: Ensure files that contain patient healthcare information are password protected.
- Verify Patient Identity: Ask for the patient’s name and date of birth at the beginning of each visit.
- Ensure Patient Comfort: Confirm the patient is in a safe space where they feel comfortable discussing sensitive information.
Tools to Assist with Securing Your Patients’ Privacy while Using Telehealth
There are a variety of telehealth vendors available, including Sesame Care, MedMD, MDlive, and Teladoc. Many have features preinstalled in their systems that offer security controls to protect patient information. The user is responsible for using and configuring the system for its specified use.
Security testing tools help defend against healthcare data breaches. They can uncover vulnerabilities in your network and system, allowing you to take needed precautions. Firewalls, antivirus software, and frequently changed passwords, along with reliable password managers, are great tools and methods to increase protection.
It is the responsibility of the company or institution endorsing the use of electronic patient care to confirm the accessibility of these testing tools before, during, and after telehealth visits. Maintaining compliance with your organization’s security risk management and patient privacy and confidentiality can limit exposure to security risks. A telehealth development company can provide expertise in telehealth technology, data encryption, and regulatory compliance to help you build a platform that protects patients’ data and privacy.
Telehealth offers an easier way for healthcare professionals to communicate online with their patients, colleagues, and other healthcare entities. Securing patient privacy and confidentiality via telehealth requires:
- Secure text messages
- Secure encrypted emailing
- Secure file exchange
- Phone or video chat through appropriate platforms (social media platforms with video capabilities are not acceptable)
- End-to-end encryption on the telehealth platform
Patients should be able to protect themselves and ensure their health and medical information are secure. There are simple steps healthcare services can implement to increase security measures. Some examples include:
- Patient-friendly Telehealth Platform: The system and user interface (UI) should be easy to use. Limiting confusion in navigating the telehealth platform can reduce the risk of security breaches.
- Translation Services: Utilizing verified medical language translation services can decrease unlicensed third-party intervention. This can also prevent users from clicking on pop-ups or malware.
- Security Education for Patients: Teach patients how to avoid phishing schemes and cyberattacks. Inform them never to provide personal information over the phone or through text messages that are not associated with the healthcare company.
Healthcare Organization Security
Preventing data breaches and increasing security measures within healthcare organizations can include:
- Staff education on data security, phishing schemes, and patient protection
- Frequent password changes
- Multi-factor authentication
- Cybersecurity translation
- Updated computer software
- Updated security tools (antivirus software, firewalls)
- Private Wi-Fi access
- Password-protected files
Commit to Securing Your Patients’ Privacy While Using Telehealth
Telehealth has improved healthcare access to communities across the country. From people who live in rural areas with limited transportation to those with disabilities, patients now have the opportunity to receive remote care.
However, increasing healthcare availability has welcomed new and unwanted vulnerabilities into the healthcare space. As a healthcare provider, you must commit to going the extra mile to ensure the privacy and confidentiality of your telehealth patients. You should always adhere to the basic telehealth rules:
- Verify patient identifiers, such as confirmation of the patient’s full name, date of birth, and address.
- Confirm a secure internet, audio, and video connection.
- Ensure you and the patient are in a HIPAA-compliant environment
Cybersecurity is vital in today’s world. To protect patient data and medical records from cyber criminals, follow the recommended security practices.
About the author:
This article was written by Gabby Williams, Marketing Rep for Hushmail via NRM.