Telehealth: It used to be little more than a buzzword in the medical industry. Telehealth was practiced in rare cases but adopted very slowly by mainstream practitioners. Detractors worried about the efficacy of diagnosing online, whether or not patient information could be kept confidential, and if best practices in healthcare security were being upheld. Enthusiasts touted the savings for doctors and patients alike as well as the ability to reach people in rural or disadvantaged areas.
COVID-19 has accelerated the acceptance and practice of video conferencing for patient consultations nationwide. Will the telehealth boom last after the pandemic has faded? We predict it will. If we are right, now is the best time to invest in support from healthcare IT experts who can help you develop your infrastructure and create policies to reflect best practices in healthcare security.
The Pros and Cons of Telehealth
While some diagnoses still require a physical exam and/or lab testing, a wide swath of the population is enjoying the benefits of being able to check in with their doctor from the comfort of their homes. No waiting, no awkward eye-contact in the waiting room, no commute to the doctor’s office, no worries about contracting the novel coronavirus from the last person sitting on the paper-covered exam table — the list goes on.
The benefits are far from one-sided. Doctors are able to see more patients, who are contacted when their doctor has time instead of being kept waiting in an exam room, and this increases patient satisfaction. Video conferencing is by far the easiest and most efficient way to conduct routine appointments like medication checkups and wellness checks.
Unfortunately, with all the benefits telehealth provides, some issues still need to be addressed regarding the security and protection of patient information. HIPAA applies to video patient consultations just as it does to in-person visits. Is your healthcare IT support up to date on the latest rules and regulations surrounding protected health information (PHI)?
The best managed IT service providers will:
- Assess your existing infrastructure,
- Create a plan to bridge any gaps and build up your security measures,
- Guide you step-by-step through implementing the plan, and
- Help train and educate your employees.
Security Issues Inherent in Telemedicine
Although there are some state and federal guidelines regarding telehealth privacy and security, some glaring issues still remain. Currently, no federal agency has the authority to sanction security and privacy regulations covering the entirety of the telemedicine ecosystem. This means different states, different hospitals, and different medical companies can all have varying policies about how to best promote virtual security.
Controlling the Flow of Information
One security issue facing telehealth practitioners is gathering healthcare IT data analytics like biorhythms, symptoms, or random screenings. These are all excellent diagnostic tools, but the way the information is gathered can leave private patient information exposed.
For example, sensors located on a patient’s body or inside their home to detect medical emergencies or red flags may unintentionally record or transmit sensitive information about their daily lives and household activities.
Another example is data transmissions from a medical device or app shared with third-party advertisers. A bluetooth-enabled reading of an insulin pump may lead to targeting for sugar-free candy ads. This may seem relatively innocuous, but it is still an invasion of privacy a patient would never be victim to in a face-to-face setting. When the same logic is applied to more nefarious schemes and advertising practices, the ramifications can be dangerous.
IT in Healthcare Management
Without the right privacy and security protections in place, patients and providers alike will suffer a loss of trust in telehealth. Until we form a comprehensive governing body to address these issues as a country, healthcare-specific managed IT service providers can help you navigate the digital security landscape.
Transforming Healthcare With IT
When we discuss information technology’s role in medicine, we are really discussing how to safely and efficiently bring your practice up-to-date. Although healthcare is notoriously slow to adopt technological advances in favor of security, the digitization of healthcare is undeniable.
Patients want real-time access to lab results and online payment options through patient portals. To keep up with the expected technology, medical records must be digitized to easily transfer; digital medical charts must ensure important information is not missed or misplaced. It can be a daunting prospect, but creating and implementing policies and technologies to help rather than hinder your practice is possible with the right guide.
Video Conferencing Best Practices in Healthcare Security
Ensure VPN Security
Virtual private networks (VPNs) allow sensitive data like video chats, emails, user data, etc. to be encrypted and passed through a validation process before being disseminated through internet-hosted software. Up-to-date, fully functioning VPN software is absolutely essential to mitigating potential security vulnerabilities that could leak of sensitive patient information.
Encrypt Mobile Devices
Many virtual patient consultations are taking place over cellular devices and apps like Google Duo, Facetime, and Zoom. If your practice is making house calls through mobile devices, you must ensure your mobile devices are encrypted.
Lost and stolen mobile devices are the leading cause of data breaches. HIPAA regulations provide some protection for the theft or loss of encrypted data, but unauthorized access to unsecured devices — laptops, USB drives, desktop computers, mobile phones — is the number one cause of HIPAA violations. If no good-faith effort was made to encrypt the information or enact the appropriate physical security measures, your practice is open to liability and fines. An IT support managed service provider can guarantee all your mobile devices, communication systems, software, and stored data are encrypted. They will also ensure your employees are aware of and following telehealth security policies.
Establish Telehealth Policies and Procedures
Human imperfection is the number one security risk in any situation. A study released by IBM backs up this opinion by finding that 95% of all data breaches result from employee error. This includes accidentally sharing information, theft and loss of devices, sending information without encryption, and falling for Phishing or ransomware attacks.
To decrease the margin of human error, developing comprehensive and enforceable policies and procedures around your telehealth practices is vital. Train new employees, hold refresher courses for veteran employees, and stay up-to-date on HIPAA compliance and data handling procedures.
For More Information
If you have questions about best practices in healthcare security, contact Scale Technology, the Little Rock, Arkansas healthcare IT service providers. We help our clients assess and rebuild their IT infrastructure to keep it HIPAA compliant and user-friendly. Let Scale handle your network, and get back to being a doctor.