The surge in telemedicine use due to the COVID-19 pandemic has contributed to the increase in recognition of the numerous benefits telemedicine provides. During the past year, many patients and providers that had never even heard of telemedicine before started using telemedicine to provide and receive the best care possible at these unusual times.
While recognizing the benefits and convenience that telemedicine provides to both providers and patients, there are still some considerable doubts when it comes to security and privacy. For telemedicine to reach its full potential both sides have to trust that their interaction, as well as the personal data transmitted, are kept private and secure. While using at-home networks and personal smart devices may pose certain security risks, we have listed some recommendations that can help you and your patients minimize potential security risks.
Encryption: Using HIPAA Compliant Telemedicine Solution
Many existing platforms that are being used to conduct telemedicine appointments do not meet HIPAA requirements and lack essential safeguards. Some of the key HIPAA requirements include guidelines on encryption. Encryption must be implemented at every step of the process. All of the communication and data exchange during the telemedicine visit should be encrypted as well. When seeking telemedicine solutions, look for information on how they assure HIPAA compliance and what security features they provide.
While using a secure HIPAA compliant telehealth platform is important, it is only one of the steps toward secure communication. Every system is as strong as its weakest link. You can have the top-notch security setup, however, if a user writes down a password on a sticky note by the computer for everyone to see, those security investments are wasted.
Working with telemedicine provider: Data breach and emergency response
Even the best security systems have their flaws. When working with ePHI, it is important to have an established emergency response in case a breach occurs. The breach can happen locally, on healthcare providers’ side, or externally, on the telemedicine providers’ side. This is why you must work together with your telemedicine provider to protect ePHI and learn about their emergency response procedures.
Device security: Keeping antivirus up to date
All of the devices that are accessing ePHI and participating in telemedicine interaction must have up-to-date protection against viruses and other malware. Assuring that providers have appropriate and up to date software installed is an easier step – how can one assure that the patients are using the best security practices to minimize the risks of contracting malware? Providers should take time prior to their virtual appointments to educate patients on easy steps that can make a big difference when it comes to their security on the internet.
The weakest link: Educate your patients on the importance of cybersecurity
Providers should help inform the patients, especially the ones that are less tech-savvy, on best practices and precautions they can take to improve their safety online. Some of the important points to cover are:
- Using antivirus and assuring they are up to date and properly configured.
- Regularly updating the operating system and applications they use.
- Properly enabling and disabling different app permissions based on the usage. In the case of a telemedicine app or web browser used to access the telemedicine link, patients should assure that their microphone and camera permissions are enabled.
- Being able to recognize fraudulent email, text, or phone communication. Provide your patient with information such as what email addresses and phone numbers you use to send them important communication ahead of time.
- Advanced: Using VPN and Firewalls.
Accessing patient data remotely
During the COVID-19 pandemic, many providers started treating their patients from their homes, using their personal devices. Due to the presence of highly sensitive information, it is pertinent to have essential safeguards in place in the form of encrypted networks, firewalls, or VPN. These security measures provide users with an added layer of security from any outside malicious users. When you need to log onto your providers’ portal, make sure that you log out as soon as you are done. Also, do not download or store locally any of the patient records.
While we recognize that the concerns about privacy and security are valid, they should not prevent providers and patients from using telemedicine. Security and privacy standards are constantly evolving to minimize risks. Together with providers, telemedicine solutions must work to assure the highest security standards and minimize existing risks. Providers must embrace the role of educating patients about security. Only in this manner will both patients and providers be able to fully embrace telemedicine safely and the many benefits that it offers.