There have been security concerns with telehealth since its introduction. However, these concerns have become magnified more than ever with the loosened regulations around HIPAA and other privacy laws. Regardless of regulations in place, it is important for providers to work to ensure patient privacy is held to the same high standard as it was prior to rules being relaxed. This can be especially challenging as the need for telemedicine has increased as an alternative to office visits.
Security Concerns With Telehealth in the Pre-COVID19 World
Even with strong HIPAA rules and regulations in place, the adoption of telemedicine by patients has been a struggle. It has been difficult for patients to fully trust the privacy and security of video used in telemedicine sessions. This is despite the documents signed assuring them of strict adherence to policy by the medical practice. It is further exacerbated by the distrust of mobile device functions such as location tracking, access to camera, and other permissions that are often needed to use these applications. Unless there is a much stronger than average patient/doctor relationship in place, patients are less likely to utilize telemedicine than an in-person appointment with their provider.
COVID19 Changes Mindsets and Lowers the Privacy Guard
In the current world we live in, there is much more compromise on the part of patients when it comes to utilizing telemedicine. In fact, much of this is because there are no alternatives for them to seek care given the present environment. Patients have more strongly embraced telemedicine while at the same time possibly forgetting the privacy and security concerns they had prior to the pandemic. It is important even with this shift in mindset that practices fulfill a strong commitment to privacy and security applications. This commitment will help ensure a long-term trust with their patients once we get past the pandemic.
Best Practices to Maintain Patient Trust in Telemedicine Privacy and Security
While government agencies have approved the use of different video platforms and relaxed other HIPAA related regulations, it is important to stay as true to original intent as possible. Consistency in business practices will result in the best possible patient care.
First, work within the rules as they were originally written with existing patients who are using telemedicine services. There is no need to change the way you provide telemedicine to those who have taken part in the past unless you are making a shift to a different solution that would impact the way you provide telemedicine visits.
Second, educate all patients about how telemedicine technology can improve health care. Even in 2014, adults surveyed agreed that they should not allow concerns about privacy to stop them from learning about technology to improve their healthcare.
Third, once you have worked to instill more confidence across your patient base, provide this education to potential new patients. There are numerous individuals looking for care who would consider using a telemedicine-based approach that they trust. Let your practice be the one that they find and trust now and for a long term.
Fourth, keep up with the regulatory changes as they happen rapidly. The essential key is that these relaxed rules can change or go back to the way they were at a moment’s notice. Be prepared by checking on a consistent basis.
During this time, we can all work together to ensure our common goal of healthier patients. By being tuned into the regulatory environment and by helping patients feel more comfortable with the way your practice takes care of their security concerns with telehealth, you will be well on your way towards that purpose.
Once we move forward from the COVID world, telehealth will remain widespread in use. The availability of telemedicine will be an expectation from patients. The potential for patients to switch practices based on the availability, or lack of availability, of telemedicine will potentially increase. This makes it doubly important that your policies and processes are strong to start. Habits and mindsets are hard to change once you or your patients are used to them. With the increase (as much as 3x or more) in hacking and other cyber crime related activity, security remains at the forefront of importance. No one wants their practice to be compromised at anytime, but particularly during a pandemic.