Telehealth has been largely ignored since its inception by both healthcare providers and patients. For starters, patients were more focused on inpatient visits rather than virtual ones, whereas healthcare experts were busy dissecting the pros and cons of telehealth. Thus, telehealth’s future seems uncertain. However, 2020 is the year that changed everything due to the pandemic. Not only did COVID-19 disrupt the entire world, but it also changed healthcare as we know it. The US healthcare system, for instance, is facing the worst financial strain in decades. However, the pandemic showed how useful telehealth is, leading to its rapid growth. While more patients and caregivers are opting for telehealth, caregivers must ensure patient protection during these virtual visits.
Let’s explore telehealth’s usage during the pandemic, why it might be risky, and a few ways healthcare providers can protect patient data by preventing medical identity theft.
Telehealth grew exponentially
As previously mentioned, telehealth had an uncertain future – patients and caregivers were barely using it. However, it has been a gamechanger during the pandemic – let’s see why.
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When the pandemic hit the US, healthcare providers had to reprioritize everything to make room for the surge of COVID-19 patients. For instance, caregivers were forced to cancel elective procedures, inpatient visits, scheduled appointments, and more. Non-COVID-19 patients were asked by both caregivers and government officials to use telehealth services instead. This not only helped to reduce the number of COVID-19 cases by encouraging social distancing, but it also showed the capabilities of telehealth. For instance, patients could use telehealth from any location as long as they had an internet connection and a smartphone or tablet for communication. It took healthcare out of the physical boundaries of hospitals and put it in the palms of the patients and physicians.
How patient protection and telehealth are connected
The rapid adoption of telehealth demonstrates that it has finally found a place within healthcare and it’s here to stay. However, since it is quite popular, it’ll also attract the attention of undesirable individuals, such as hackers.
Healthcare data breaches are common in the US healthcare system. This is because hackers can sell stolen patient information for up to $1000. Fraudsters buy these credentials and pose as the patients – committing medical identity theft.
While these usually occur during inpatient visits, it’s safe to assume that medical identity theft will bleed over to telehealth visits too. For that, patient protection must be ensured even during telehealth sessions – caregivers can do that by protecting patient data effectively.
Ways to ensure patient data protection during telehealth visits
Comply with HIPAA and safeguard PHI
Anyone who knows about the US healthcare system has heard about the word “HIPAA”. The Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act has laid out rules and regulations that must strictly be followed by all healthcare providers. Mostly, it’s about safeguarding PHI (protected health information).
Even with telehealth, providers need to ensure HIPAA compliance at all times. For instance, the devices, networks, and communication methods must be secure enough for HIPAA compliance. However, you can go above and beyond to protect patient information from being accessed by outsiders – here are a few tips:
- Enforce VPN usage for all telehealth sessions
- Allow usage of only official and encrypted devices
- Keep patient data access logs
- Make sure only private networks are used during telehealth sessions
- Review security policies regularly
While these might seem like basic tips, with so much going on within healthcare facilities, many caregivers fail to follow them properly. This leads to hampering patient protection as patient data might be exposed to outsiders via data breaches. Not only that, but not ensuring adequate security leads to HIPAA violations. Thus, if caregivers want to protect patient data, they should ensure HIPAA compliance right off the bat.
You might also like to read: Healthcare Data Breaches – Why and how do they happen?
However, HIPAA compliance is quite complex – it has several rules and regulations that seem to be changing constantly. Fortunately, healthcare providers can remove the administrative burden by using HIPAA Ready – a HIPAA compliance software. It is a simple but powerful app that keeps HIPAA related information centralized, helps conduct internal audits, and can ensure that everyone within the organization is ensuring HIPAA compliance – including those using telehealth. Ensuring HIPAA compliance means you’re placing ample safeguards required for PHI, protecting patients in the process.
Ensure accurate patient identification
How do you prevent medical identity theft in real-time? By using a tried and tested solution that ensures patients are who they say they are and not fraudsters. That’s exactly what RightPatient does.
RightPatient is a touchless patient identification platform that identifies patients accurately right from the start. During remote appointment scheduling, patients are required to provide a selfie and a photo of their driver’s license. The platform matches the photos and verifies their identities, and red-flags any anomalies if fraudsters are involved.
RightPatient prevents medical identity theft in real-time, even if the data is breached – ensuring patient data protection and providing a safer experience for patients. Moreover, RightPatient is versatile enough to be used during telehealth visits too – leading to improved healthcare outcomes for your remote patients. Be a responsible caregiver and protect patients by preventing medical identity theft with RightPatient.
Darrent is a digital marketer, tech enthusiast & blogger.