Telehealth has become a way of life and an accepted part of healthcare services especially through and post the recent pandemic
Telehealth has been a part of healthcare services for a considerable period of time with it being lauded as the way forward in consultations and routine doctor-patient interactions. According to a UnitedHealth Group report, Telehealth use surged from 8% of Americans in December 2019 to 29% in May 2020 as primary care and mental health physicians and specialists turned to remote care out of necessity during the COVID-19 pandemic.
Medicare regulations historically restricted the availability of telemedicine services to those living in rural areas. Privacy laws also previously limited remote medical treatment, but those laws were waived so that nurses and doctors could use video conferencing tools like Cisco, Vidyo, and Zoom to connect with patients. One of the provisions of the CARES Act seeks to encourage the use and availability of telehealth.
Currently telehealth is prevalent in every nook and corner of the world. We can be assured that this practice is firmly here to stay. The advantages are obvious and far too many to ignore.
The benefits of telehealth
- Reducing exposure to infection: There is no personal interface between the doctor and the patient, thereby totally eliminating the possibility of infection from one to the other. And, because the patient is not going to the clinic, the risk of exposure to any infection is totally eliminated.
- Time savings: The hassle of transit to a hospital or clinic is done away with not only in this time of restricted travel movement but also when daily life resumes.
- Broader access to specialists: Patients may seek consultation and advice from specialists not only from their local city, but from any specialist across the country, effectively erasing geographical boundaries.
- Broader interaction between the medical community: An entire panel of doctors can collaborate from different centers to address a particular patient’s need or a local community need. In addition, healthcare specialists from across the country can seek opinions and consensus amongst themselves forming online forums and groups.
- Rural area access: Where on-site experts are in short supply, particularly in some rural areas, telemedicine can help take the stress off for both patients and their families.
- Anytime, anywhere access: Availability of round-the-clock medical aid from the comfort of your home or office.
The pertinent question that emerges is – How safe is the data that is being transmitted during a telehealth consultation? What happens when my protected health information (PHI) is leaked?
As in the case of a routine physical consultation, there is an exchange of information in telehealth. The nurse or medical assistant will take down details of the patient’s name, age, sex and medical history. For maintaining records, it is also imperative to record the physical address, insurance details, Medicare number, and Social Security Number.
Protected health information (PHI) ensures that all medical information received from the patient is safe. Per HIPAA requirements, the medical history ought to be fully protected and there should be no breach of any patient’s sensitive personal information.
While this process is easier to adhere to in the case of physical records, owing to a time-tested compliance method already in place in hospitals and agencies, there is the imminent danger of hacking on the internet. There have been serious cases of security lapses in telehealth leading to breach of patient data. Therefore, it is of paramount interest in every patient’s case to ensure that the data exchange is safe, secure, and free from being leaked with obvious malicious intent.
A key adverse effect – through intentional or unintended error in data transmission or purposeful hacking – is that a patient’s personal data can be used maliciously against the patient or there could potentially even be a situation where the medication may be gravely altered with an intent to harm the patient. Where data theft is concerned, it is a different and equally dangerous game whereby huge databases of information that are amassed are sold at exorbitant sums in the black market, to be bought for use by identity thieves.
What do healthcare companies and patients and their families need to watch out for?
As mentioned, the basic premise of HIPAA compliance telehealthcare stipulates that health information should be protected. The video call or conferencing software that is used for conducting the patient’s medical consultation session/s needs to adhere to this regulation. Therefore, companies that develop such critical software need to give a clear declaration of their policy of adherence to the HIPAA requirements.
Each patient’s privacy and security needs to be of utmost importance and treated as such. The software needs to have undergone enough tests at multiple levels to establish its threshold of HIPAA compliance.
Both parties should do enough research and investigation to shortlist and vet only those vendors which have clearly passed the test. This entails going through their policy documents in detail and reviewing their HIPAA -compliant declaration.
Key Features of Personify Chromacam’s Policy ensuring HIPAA compliance
- Data security and privacy are of paramount importance to Personify Inc and the Company employs appropriate adequate measures in processes, procedures, policies and technologies to protect personal health information.
- The information security policies and procedures are closely aligned to international standards that are widely accepted. They are constantly reviewed and updated from time to time to incorporate legislation rules and business requirements.
- There are measures in place to protect against accidental unauthorized access, use, destruction or disclosure of data.
- The Company has a strategy for Business Continuity and Disaster Recovery that has been designed to safeguard and ensure continuous and seamless service to clients and also protect its people and assets.
- Appropriate curbs and checks on access to personal information.
- Implementation of appropriate measures and controls on data, that includes monitoring and physical checks for storage and safe transfer of data.
- Regular security awareness training programs for employees and contractors.
- Necessary steps to ensure that employees and contractors are aware and incorporate all clauses applicable in contractual conditions and operate according to the Company’s information security policies and procedures.
- The Company requires through the use of contracts and security reviews, that third-party vendors and service providers and subcontractors protect any sensitive information that they may have access to, in accordance with company policies and procedures.
Video conferencing solutions can easily integrate Personify’s product to ensure they are HIPAA-compliant and highly secure, in order to be a trusted telehealth tool provider or vendor.
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