Telehealth has become a buzzword in the healthcare industry, and for a good reason. With the advancement of technology, healthcare providers can now connect with patients from the comfort of their homes.
This has opened doors for those with limited access to health care. For example, individuals living in rural areas or with disabilities that make it difficult for them to travel to medical appointments can now receive care through telehealth.
With the potential to revolutionize the healthcare industry, it’s no surprise that telehealth has gained so much attention in recent years. But every coin has two sides.
While telehealth provides convenience and flexibility for patients and practitioners, it also raises concerns about data privacy and security.
Main Security Concerns With Telehealth
One of the most significant telehealth concerns involves transmitting sensitive medical information, also referred to as protected health information (PHI), over the internet or other networks. This increases the risk of data being intercepted or accessed by unauthorized individuals. Telehealth systems are also vulnerable to cyberattacks such as malware, phishing scams, and denial-of-service attacks.
What happens when there is a patient data breach and an unauthorized person gains access to the information? Let’s take a look.
- Loss of Trust: Patients may feel violated and lose trust in the health care provider or the telehealth system, damaging the provider’s reputation.
- Identity Theft: Cybercriminals can use patient data for identity theft, which can have serious consequences. When personal information, such as social security numbers or financial information, is compromised, patients may face financial losses, credit issues, or other problems.
- Misuse of Information: Unauthorized access to patient data can result in the misuse of information. For example, the information could be used to discriminate against the patient in employment or insurance decisions or to blackmail or extort the patient.
Unintentional HIPAA Violations
The Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act (HIPAA) provides guidelines for healthcare organizations to protect patient’s privacy and security while handling their data. The digitalization of healthcare information and services has raised many concerns about maintaining patient privacy.
Failure to comply with HIPAA regulations comes in different forms, including accidental. For example, many practitioners use various online methods of communication to connect with clients. A common oversight is providing contact forms that are not secure or HIPAA compliant. This is how many accidental HIPAA violations can occur.
Why Telehealth Security Is Essential
Healthcare security breach statistics ring the alarm bell. From 2009 to 2022, 342 million patient records were stolen or illegally accessed. As the threat increases, so does the financial burden. The average cost of a healthcare data breach reached $10.1 million in 2022, an $870,000 increase from the previous year.
The COVID-19 pandemic has further exacerbated the situation, with an increase in telehealth usage and the prevalence of remote work. Recent Microsoft statistics provide insight into this heightened risk, revealing that 67% of IT leaders using Microsoft 365 experienced increased data breaches due to remote work.
Meanwhile, a 2021 Kaspersky telehealth survey found that 52% of telehealth providers encountered patients who refused to utilize telehealth services. This decision resulted from patients not trusting the technology to safeguard their data security and privacy.
The breach of PHI can have severe consequences for patients and healthcare providers alike. Therefore, it is crucial to prioritize data privacy and security while using telehealth services.
Best Practices for Securing Your Patients’ Privacy While Using Telehealth
Here are five best practices for securing your patients’ privacy while using telehealth:
1. Use Secure Telehealth Platforms
If the telehealth platform is not secure, no matter how well-trained or careful the provider is – a data breach might find its way. The platforms should be HIPAA compliant, have end-to-end encryption, and use multi-factor authentication to prevent unauthorized access.
Secure telehealth platforms also provide a safe and protected environment for online consultations, making it difficult for hackers to intercept the communication. Healthcare providers should also always use secure networks and avoid public Wi-Fi networks, which are more susceptible to hacking.
2. Conduct Regular Penetration Testing
Penetration testing is the practice of simulating a cyberattack on a system to identify vulnerabilities. Healthcare providers should conduct regular checkups through penetration testing tools to find potential security risks in their telehealth systems. After all, don’t we all agree that prevention is better than cure?
3. Train Employees on Data Privacy and Security
Just like with any other system, employee training is a critical component of securing patients’ privacy while using telehealth services. Cybersecurity training can educate staff on how to recognize scams and threats, practice network safety, respond to data breaches, and use technology appropriately.
Since telehealth is a fast-paced system heavily affected by technological advancements, the training should be updated regularly.
4. Use Strong Passwords
Using a weak password is equivalent to leaving your front door unlocked. A strong password can be a game-changer in preventing unauthorized access to patient data.
The passwords should be unique and complex. Use a different password for every account and change them regularly. Two-factor authentication (2FA) should also be used where possible.
5. Update Devices and Networks
While a strong password may keep the door locked, it doesn’t prevent anyone from climbing through a window that was left open. This same idea applies to software updates, as they offer the latest security patches. Neglecting these updates leaves the system more vulnerable to cyberattacks.
Just What the Doctor Ordered
Telehealth has revolutionized how we access healthcare services, bringing medical care to our fingertips. However, as with any technological innovation, it has brought its own set of security challenges.
One of the most significant security concerns is the transmission of sensitive medical information over the internet, which increases the risk of unauthorized access or interception.
Following best practices for securing your patients’ privacy while using telehealth is crucial. Patients can feel confident that their data is secure by utilizing secure telehealth platforms, penetration testing, cybersecurity training, strong passwords, and regularly updated systems.