How to securely embrace the immediate implications and prepare for the future of telehealth
The COVID outbreak has prompted an incredible uptick in telehealth usage. As the pandemic unfolds, healthcare workers may be putting themselves at higher risk of severe disease just by doing their jobs during a time when protective equipment is in short supply.
Fortunately, key government agencies have started to deliver funds and are reconsidering restrictions around the use of telehealth services so that providers can continue to serve communities safely and securely.
Much of this funding is being directed toward rural and underserved populations that may not have the necessary technology to engage in telemedicine offerings. That means organizations need to distribute not just smartphones but also a wide range of other devices that are critical for providing remote healthcare services.
For example, many specialists require enhanced features to diagnose conditions with the same level of precision they can achieve in person. Some dermatologists have their patients use specific apps so they can upload and share photos of skin lesions for close analysis. Others rely on remote patient monitoring devices to track everything from blood pressure to glucose levels. Increasingly, long-term care plans also involve sensor-based pill bottles. All of these connected devices require a strong network on both ends and proper integrations so that providers can consistently see and act on resulting data.
With the right solutions in place, doctors can enjoy a more robust, data-driven conversation with patients. They can quickly access data viewing a patient’s health records. And they can meet patient needs more quickly.
Telehealth solutions equipped with AI-driven chat bot capabilities are another way to accelerate quality care, stepping in to support doctors that aren’t able to see every single patient, on demand.
Caring for patients. Fending off cyberthreats.
The benefits of telehealth have become increasingly clear. Virtual engagement can help doctors triage patients more efficiently and help patients access treatment more quickly.
But many telemedicine providers are struggling with data security and privacy issues on their current telehealth software platforms—and many patients are hesitant to try these services due to the associated perceived risks. Their reluctance is understandable, considering 40 million Americans were affected by data breaches in 2019.1
Healthcare as a whole has been hit hard by a wave of heartless hackers who are deliberately targeting hospitals to lock them out of critical care systems, intending to extort more or quicker ransomware payments. In response, providers are amplifying security measures to protect patient data and proprietary information.
Strategies include increasing internal awareness and threat modeling around COVID-19-themed phishing attempts, and educating individuals on best practices for accessing sensitive data from remote devices. Many are also choosing to outsource security operations to help lift some of the burden off of those serving the public on the frontlines of this crisis.
Providers can take measures to protect sensitive information by focusing on identity and access management, using advanced tools to ensure individuals are who they claim to be on both sides of any telehealth interaction.
Organizations should use telehealth platforms that prioritize privacy, meaning they are both HIPAA and HITECH compliant, and that feature end-to-end encryption. That often means working with technology partners to ensure each device, app and portal is protected. With aggressive and evolving cyberthreats multiplying, it’s absolutely critical to wrap multiple security measures around any media form where patient data has been captured through text, video or voice.
Telehealth is here to stay
Healthcare anywhere is a big part of where healthcare is headed. Past barriers to telehealth are being swiftly removed, which makes the once-novel practice more accessible. For example, there used to be no billing code available for telemedicine, so many doctors offered tele services pro bono and only in unique circumstances. Now they can bill for their work much more easily. They’re also seeing fewer licensure hurdles and the ability to connect with other physicians across state lines.
This is good news for patients who welcome virtual care. Younger populations are particularly inclined to seek retail-like healthcare services through urgent care and low-pay clinics. Many are accustomed to seeking traditional, established physician care only if they have a chronic disease that needs ongoing management.
Retail giants are already encroaching on traditional healthcare by opening 24-hour clinics that let customers fill prescriptions while they’re shopping for groceries and other essentials. Beyond your typical pharmacy, these clinics also offer a place to seek treatment for ear infections, flu symptoms, and even broken bones. Many of these services are available for a low fee—no insurance necessary.
In order to compete with such convenient, cost-effective healthcare options, traditional providers will likely need to embrace a future of telehealth that will extend long after social distancing ends. With the right technology in place, they’ll be able to safely and successfully adapt to this new normal. Healthcare organizations can start by preparing for increased demands on their network and to ensure that proper security measures are in place to anticipate ever-evolving threats.
1 Statista, 2019 Data Security Incident Response Report