Telehealth has revolutionized the way healthcare providers deliver care to patients. It allows patients to access medical professionals from the comfort of their homes, reducing travel time and exposure to germs. With the rise of telehealth, there has been an increase in concerns about the privacy and security of patients’ information.
Medical visits are an intimate and confidential affair involving exchanging highly personal information, such as social security numbers and medical histories. Ensuring the security of this information has always been a cornerstone of the doctor-patient relationship.
However, telehealth has created a unique challenge to this privacy, as remote consultations are often conducted over less secure channels like phones or the internet. Such channels are vulnerable to compromise, increasing the likelihood of breaches in patient confidentiality.
Here are 12 best practices for securing your patients’ privacy while using telehealth.
1. Be Aware of Unintentional HIPAA Violations
The Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act (HIPAA) was introduced to protect patients’ privacy and sensitive information. Enacted in 1996, HIPAA provides a refined guideline for healthcare professionals that ensures safety and professionalism.
Even with the best intentions, unintentional HIPAA violations can occur due to simple oversights or misunderstandings of complex regulations. For example, adding a HIPAA waiver at the end of an email does not make it HIPAA compliant.
Understanding and complying with HIPAA regulations is crucial to protect patients’ privacy. HIPAA violations can also lead to hefty fines and reputational damage to healthcare providers.
One of the most significant areas of concern is data transmission. Healthcare providers must ensure that data is encrypted when transmitted and that only authorized individuals can access it.
2. Use Penetration Testing Tools
Penetration testing tools are essential for identifying security weaknesses in a telehealth system. It involves a simulated attack on the infrastructure to determine how well it can withstand potential cyber threats. These tests can be carried out by an external company or in-house Information Technology (IT) team.
Penetration testing can also help identify and fix vulnerabilities in other software, such as medical billing systems. It is recommended to conduct regular penetration tests to guarantee a foolproof system.
3. Stay Informed of Healthcare Data Breach Statistics
Over the years, healthcare data breaches are becoming increasingly common. In the wrong hands, the data used by healthcare professionals can be a tool for manipulation. According to healthcare data breach statistics, over 44.8 million healthcare records were accessed in 2022.
To prevent data breaches, healthcare providers must implement robust security measures, such as strong access controls, firewalls, and intrusion detection systems. Following the essential guidelines for data security is the key to preventing data breaches in the healthcare industry.
4. Use Secure Video Conferencing Tools
With video conferencing being one of the most common telehealth methods, healthcare providers must ensure they are utilizing secure video conferencing HIPAA-compliant tools. These tools should have end-to-end encryption, secure login, and access controls. The video conferencing platform should not store patient data, and the connection should be secure and reliable.
5. Implement Multi-Factor Authentication
One of the most effective ways to secure telehealth systems is to implement multi-factor authentication or MFA. Multi-factor authentication adds a layer of security beyond just a password. It requires users to provide two or more authentication factors to gain access to a system.
For example, a user may need to provide a password and a unique code sent to their phone. MFA can significantly reduce the risk of unauthorized access to telehealth systems and protect patients’ privacy. Healthcare providers should consider other cybersecurity methods to enhance protection.
6. Conduct Regular Security Audits
It is important to conduct regular security audits to ensure the telehealth system is secure and compliant with HIPAA regulations. Security audits can identify vulnerabilities and gaps in security measures and help address them before cybercriminals exploit them.
Even though in-house IT teams would be more than capable of auditing security systems, some security professionals suggest audits conducted by external companies to overcome biases.
7. Work With an HITRUST-Certified Vendor
Working with vendors certified by the High Information Trust Alliance (HITRUST) can be an effective strategy for securing patients’ privacy when using telehealth. HITRUST is a widely recognized security framework designed to standardize security requirements across the healthcare industry.
By partnering with a HITRUST-certified vendor for telehealth services, healthcare providers can ensure that their systems are designed and implemented according to strict security protocols. HITRUST-certified vendors must comply with comprehensive security controls and undergo rigorous testing and assessments to ensure their systems are fully secure.
8. Monitor System Activity
Monitoring system activity can help detect potential security threats before they can cause damage. Healthcare providers should implement intrusion detection systems that can detect and alert suspicious activity in real time. Logging and reviewing system activity is important to identify anomalies or unauthorized access attempts.
Apart from monitoring, the codification of the data is a lifesaving tool for data security.
9. Utilize Microsoft Statistics
Microsoft offers an array of resources to help healthcare providers secure their systems. The company has published a whitepaper outlining best practices for telehealth security, covering data protection, authentication, and network security topics.
Microsoft also provides tools like Azure Active Directory that allow secure and seamless access to telehealth systems. Microsoft statistics and resources can help healthcare providers stay informed and implement effective security measures. In fact, the use of highly researched and foolproof tools can eliminate many potential hazards.
10. Use Secure Communication Tools
Telehealth systems rely on communication tools to connect patients and healthcare providers. Healthcare professionals must use secure communication tools to encrypt data at rest and in transit. Utilizing HIPAA-compliant messaging platforms and video conferencing tools ensures safe and smooth communication.
11. Train Employees on Security Best Practices
Human error is one of the most common causes of data breaches. Verizon’s 2022 Data Breaches Investigations Report reveals that 82% of data breaches involved a human factor. It is crucial to train employees on security best practices to ensure that they understand the importance of protecting patient privacy.
Employees should be trained and educated on topics such as password security, data encryption, and how to handle sensitive information. Regular training sessions can reinforce security best practices and reduce the risk of unintentional HIPAA violations.
12. Prepare for Security Incidents
Despite best efforts, security incidents can still occur. Healthcare providers should have a plan in place for responding to security incidents, including how to notify patients and regulatory authorities. Providers should also conduct routine drills to test the effectiveness of their incident response plans and identify areas for improvement.
In conclusion, securing patient privacy in telehealth systems is a critical responsibility for healthcare providers. Telehealth has made it easier for patients to access medical care but it also poses a significant threat to patients’ privacy. Providers must implement best practices to ensure their telehealth systems are secure and compliant with HIPAA regulations.
Healthcare professionals can protect their patients’ sensitive information by:
- Being aware of unintentional HIPAA violations
- Using penetration testing tools
- Staying informed of healthcare data breach statistics
- Using secure video conferencing tools
- Implementing multi-factor authentication
- Conducting regular security audits.
- Working with HITRUST-certified vendors
- Monitoring system activity
- Utilizing Microsoft statistics
- Using secure communication tools
- Training employees on security best practices
- Preparing for security incidents
By following these 12 best practices, healthcare providers can build trust with their patients, provide secure and confident care, and protect their patients’ confidential information.