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When people were forced to stay home at the height of the pandemic, telemedicine made it possible for many patients to continue receiving the care they needed. Even though telehealth use increased between 2016 and 2019, it was only during the pandemic that providers and healthcare organizations started using it more regularly. But as virtual visits became more popular, concerns over data security also heightened.
Questions regarding telehealth’s susceptibility to data breaches and other cyberattacks are driving discussions among different stakeholders. A collaborative report between Dark Owl and Security Scorecard shows that although telehealth has proven to be a vital tool in increasing healthcare access during the pandemic, it has also increased healthcare providers’ digital footprint and attack surface.
In a statement provided to Healthcare IT News, SecurityScorecard COO and Co-founder Sam Kassoumeh expressed his concern, saying, “The rapid pace at which telehealth applications were rolled out during the pandemic made them attractive targets for cybercriminals.”
Telehealth isn’t going away anytime soon. If anything, it’s only going to further cement itself as a new fundamental way of delivering care in the years to come. So how do you protect your practice and your patients from cyber threats amidst a rapidly evolving healthcare landscape?
Read More: Telemedicine vs. Telehealth: What’s the Difference?
Your Telehealth Platform Matters
The argument that telehealth was prematurely catapulted into the limelight out of necessity is, in large part, what’s making some providers and patients wary. At the onset of the pandemic, the federal government had to temporarily relax HIPAA restrictions to give way to broader access to virtual care while stringent lockdown measures were in place. And since many healthcare organizations weren’t equipped with the proper tools and infrastructure to securely conduct telehealth visits, some providers began seeing patients on unsecured platforms.
Relying on mainstream messaging services, like Zoom, Facebook Messenger, FaceTime, and Google Meets, isn’t going to provide your practice with the security it needs. Although these applications are readily available and often free, they lack HIPAA compliance. If you want to take your practice’s data protection seriously, you need to take the extra step to ensure your telehealth platform adheres to HIPAA guidelines.
EHR-linked telehealth systems give you the best defense against cyber threats. For starters, EHRs are HIPAA-compliant and closely regulated by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HSS). That means that any peripherals, services, and tools that serve as an extension of an EHR software must also comply with the same HIPAA regulations.
Meditab’s flagship EHR software, Intelligent Medical Software (IMS), integrates a convenient telehealth solution. Televisit sits on a fully HIPAA-compliant platform so that you can securely conduct virtual visits directly from your EHR. With a dedicated security team, telehealth platforms like IMS give you what other popular messaging apps can’t: peace of mind.
Your Staff Play a Crucial Role
Investing in HIPAA-compliant systems is just one piece of the puzzle. Your clinic staff also plays an equally important role in reducing your practice’s cybersecurity risks.
Making sure that your team studies industry trends will help them keep up with emerging technologies like telehealth and the challenges that come with it. Your team must be trained and educated on the proper use of your telehealth platform and understand how to ensure data security.
A shorter learning curve is yet another advantage of having an EHR-linked telehealth system. Because your staff is already familiar with your EHR software, they no longer need to start from scratch when learning about its telehealth features.
Relaxed Restrictions Are Temporary
Issues involving data security and privacy aren’t necessarily new in healthcare. The digitization of the healthcare system brought more than a few security challenges, even before the pandemic-induced virtual care boom. However, some providers fear telehealth’s sudden rise to prominence may have amplified these risks.
“Any time you make a change to an IT environment, you have the potential to increase risk,” said Nuspire Executive Director of Security Strategy Andy Riley in an interview with Healthcare IT News.
Read More: Ransomware Protection Guide: How to Protect Your Practice
Indeed, security compliance and regulatory standards are legitimate areas of concern when discussing telehealth, especially since HIPAA restrictions were lightened at the pandemic’s start. However, the loosening of guidelines isn’t bound to last forever.
It’s still early to predict what the rules will look like after the pandemic is over. But the state and federal governments have already taken steps to ensure telehealth’s permanence. While no concrete actions have been made regarding cybersecurity measures, it’ll only be a matter of time before we see new policies geared at making telehealth safer from cybersecurity threats.
A Balancing Act
The pandemic catalyzed technological adoption at an unprecedented rate. In just over a year, the healthcare industry entered a much different position than the pre-pandemic era. However, with every shift also comes a great deal of barriers to break. In the case of telehealth, the biggest challenge right now is cybersecurity.
On the other hand, just because there are potential risks does not mean you should stop offering telemedicine services altogether. At a time when consumerism is rapidly changing patient behavior and expectations, you need to adapt and provide more convenient options to thrive.
It’s no longer enough to simply offer a virtual appointment. You need to gain your patients’ confidence and trust by assuring them that your telemedicine platform is safe and secure.
“We’re not too far from a future where people decide which health systems to go to depending on who protects their information the best,” said National Cyber Security Alliance (NCSA) Executive Director Kevin Coleman in a HealthTech Magazine article about telehealth security.
The Benefits Far Outweigh the Risks
Even with the existing challenges and risks, telehealth remains a powerful and essential tool that will shape the future of care. To shy away from it would mean missed opportunities.
Industry leaders, policymakers, and other stakeholders are already institutionalizing telehealth. So whether you like it or not, telehealth is here to stay. Your best bet at maximizing your benefits is a secure, EHR-integrated telemedicine solution.
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