Currently, the entire globe is experiencing its universal lockdown. With the looming threat of COVID-19, people have been keeping to themselves to avoid any possible run-in with the virus. There has been an enormous surge of online activity on all facets of the internet; Entertainment, shopping, work, and even health. In this blog, we will be spotlighting the sudden rise and continually improving world of Telehealth. This blog talks about Telehealth and Telemedicine, referring to Telehealth as the set of technologies and practices to help deliver remote health services. When we refer to Telemedicine, we are talking about specific telemedicine appointments between a doctor and the patient. We consider Telemedicine to be a subset of Telehealth.
The Rise and Risks of Telehealth
Thanks to Telehealth and Telemedicine, patients will no longer have to meet in person to discuss an ailment. Most checkups are done through the comfort of your home and, overall, have made life convenient. Doctor and patient can now communicate instantly wherever and whenever! Due to COVID-19, the number of Telemedicine appointments has skyrocketed. Many patients enjoy the flexibility of Telemedicine appointments and the fact that they save time in terms of driving to the doctor's office and waiting there. However, like any other online activity, there are always risks involved, whether for your company’s network and data or your employees’ or patients' data privacy.
While Telehealth is convenient, it can also unsuspectedly add cybersecurity risk and impact the privacy of patient information. This means cybercriminals can hijack the data. Worst case scenario, these technologies can enable hackers to use malware to hold patient data hostage. Another risk of exposing private patient data is that it can be utilized for stealing the patient’s identity. Statistically, cybercriminals target the healthcare industry the most, and it is also considered within the U.S. to be the least prepared industry for cyber crimes committed.
Healthcare organizations can proactively take these three steps to secure and protect the Protected Health Information (PHI) being shared in Telemedicine transactions.
Top 3 Tips for Security and Privacy in Telehealth
Create and Enforce Telehealth Requirements
One of the most challenging risk factors to keep under control is team member access, so to protect against any potential cyberattacks, establishing Telehealth cybersecurity guidelines is a must. To provide context for this assertation, 95% of all data breaches resulted from a team member user error, according to IBM. This includes lost/stolen devices, accidental sharing of patient information, or falling for ransomware attempts/attacks.
Implementing an effective Telehealth plan is necessary to train the staff and ensure that optimal cybersecurity practices are being followed. All staff members should know of the standard HIPAA compliance requirements when it comes to anything online, proper patient information handling, and overall strategies to protect PHI.
Invest in Mobile Device Encryption
This year, HIPAA relaxed many of the restrictions that would typically be needed to provide Telehealth checkups. Now, practitioners can access PHI and any Telemedicine applications from the convenience of their mobile phones and tablets. As mentioned previously, this flexibility allows any practitioner to deliver quality virtual assistance quickly and effectively! However, the potential of cybersecurity risk increases significantly.
Providers are urged to invest adequate device management plans to offer secure medical services. For example, this can include the separation of personal devices/applications from healthcare applications or data. Encrypting all devices is also a solution that can exponentially reduce any associated risk with accidental data leaks. Ensure that all electronic devices, communication systems, stored data, and software are encrypted and that all employees follow the implemented Telemedicine policies, as mentioned in the first tip.
Spend the Time to Understand how Third-Party Platforms Manage Your Data
With all the time spent on the multitude of applications that Telehealth providers use, it is crucial to have a thorough understanding of what the policies are on data collection. More often than not, a lot of these applications have their policies when it comes to the storage, collection, destruction, and management of all data entered.
Understanding your chosen Telehealth platform’s data collection policies is essential in complying with all HIPAA regulations and protecting patient data. Ensure that the Telehealth service that is being utilized is considered to be reputable and that it is also following all HIPAA regulations and guidelines. Most of these reputable companies should have their code of conduct written in their terms of agreement, so finding this information should not be too difficult.
Telemedicine has become a beneficial and necessary solution during the COVID-19 crisis. Its growing popularity and usage can severely affect the safety of private PHI. As most routine doctor visits/ checkups are now being done online, cybersecurity risk has reached an all-time high. Emerging technologies and software are being facilitated right now, all with the intent to complement Telehealth. Cybercriminals will set traps knowing that Telemedicine will be still be used, making it the primary platform for attack. It is no doubt that the number of telemedicine appointments being made will continue to rise as the COVID-19 pandemic reshapes our current healthcare system, prompting the need for medical practitioners and organizations to focus on personal and patient cybersecurity.