Telemedicine is the future of healthcare. With it, providers are now able to deliver health-related services and information to patients anywhere, anytime. However, with new technologies come new cyberthreats. Providers have to be diligent in order to manage and allay patients’ privacy and security concerns in telehealth.
To empower you to keep your clients electronic personal health information (ePHI) safe, let’s discuss the benefits and potential weaknesses of telehealth cybersecurity. Then we’ll cover how you can protect yourself from these dangers.
Benefits of Telemedicine
Telehealth enables patients to receive healthcare services from the comfort of their homes. To do so, doctors and medical providers leverage various telecommunication technologies to provide patients with:
In each case it’s the patients themselves who are the most empowered by these technologies. Telemedicine allows them to actively participate in their healthcare efforts. In addition, telemedicine has been linked to increased accessibility and quality of care, along with lower operational costs. By reducing exposure to other infectants it also increases patients’ overall safety.
But telemedicine’s benefits aren’t limited to the patients.
Pro’s for Healthcare Professionals
On the provider side doctors and other medical personnel are also protected from risk of infection by meeting with patients virtually rather than in person. In addition, telemedicine offers opportunities for providers to enjoy:
- A larger and more diverse clientele base, including distant and underserved areas
- Greater patient satisfaction
- Increased revenue from more clients and fewer operational costs
Another major benefit for both parties is the security and privacy that effective telehealth practice can provide.
Telemedicine puts patients in control of their health in ways conventional treatment doesn’t.
For one thing it empowers patients to keep track of their records via streamlined online accounts.
Additionally, digital recordkeeping helps protect patients’ data. From cloud backups to personal records stored on private networks, the risks of natural disaster, theft, and loss are mitigated.
However, digitization does lay the foundation for certain cybersecurity threats.
Potential Telemedicine Security Issues
Just as physical records can be lost, damaged, or stolen, digital files also face safety risks. For personal health information (PHI) the biggest set of risks comes from hackers who seek to access an organization’s data for personal gain.
Attackers are always looking for telehealth cybersecurity gaps to exploit, and all it takes is a single breach to expose your entire network of information.
The primary threats involve attackers illicitly accessing clients’ records via:
- Breaking into individual devices
- Hacking into accounts
- Accessing networks
- Leveraging applications
To prevent these and other threats let’s run through some cybersecurity precautions providers should practice in order to keep everyone’s information safe.
How to Protect Against Cybersecurity Threats
To shore up your cybersecurity and protect your clients’ information, implement the following best practices:
- Protect devices and accounts – All personal devices and accounts used by staff and clientele to access personal health information must be secured. This security should take the form of not only a password, but multi-factor authentication (MFA).
- Passwords are largely ineffectual, regardless of individual strength.
- MFA, also known as multi-factor authentication, requires more than one set of identity credentials for logging into an account or a device. According to Microsoft, It can prevent up to 99.9 percent of account compromises.
- Use safe networks – In addition to ensuring the safety of individual devices and accounts, it’s imperative to make sure any networks connected to these devices are safe. One great countermeasure is to use a virtual private network (VPN).
- Public wifi networks offer accessibility at the cost of privacy risks. Since anyone can access them, devices on the network are easy targets for eavesdropping, phishing, and hacking, which could lead to a breach.
- A VPN is private. Only those with accessibility credentials (ideally MFA) can enter. In addition VPNs are encrypted. Even if hackers do access data, the information is illegible.
- Practice caution with downloads – Programs and applications can open loopholes for cybercriminals to target. Protocols should be set in place to:
- Restrict download capability of staff, permitting only approved downloads from trusted sources;
- Set firewall protections on all business devices;
- Encourage patients to avoid downloading any software that could compromise their cybersecurity;
- Provide training and education for staff.
Above all, it’s important to instill an organization-wide attitude of cybersecurity. It takes a group effort to follow the regulations set out in the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act (HIPAA). But it’s worth the effort to keep both your patients and business safe.
Telemedicine and HIPAA
Although HIPAA guidelines predate telehealth use, the cybersecurity guidelines and regulations still apply to new technology.
All covered entities that provide healthcare services or process PHI must comply with HIPAA guidelines. Failure to do so can result in both fines and criminal charges, even for unintentional violations.
The most applicable HIPAA stipulation to telemedicine is the Security Rule. It states that covered entities must ensure that the data they “create, receive, maintain, or transmit” is kept confidential, available, and secure. Per the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services:
The Security Rule defines “confidentiality” to mean that ePHI is not available or disclosed to unauthorized persons. The Security Rule’s confidentiality requirements support the Privacy Rule’s prohibitions against improper uses and disclosures of PHI. The Security rule also promotes the two additional goals of maintaining the integrity and availability of ePHI. Under the Security Rule “integrity” means that ePHI is not altered or destroyed in an unauthorized manner. “Availability” means that ePHI is accessible and usable on demand by an authorized person.
In practice these specifications mean that not only does information need to be stored in a secure trusted application, but that all communications involving this information must also take place via trusted platforms. For instance, your patient’s preferred SMS or email client may fall out of HIPAA compliance, so transferring any PHI using this platform would violate HIPAA.
It’s imperative to constantly monitor and update all communications to ensure that you’re using approved platforms. For this and other HIPAA compliance solutions RSI Security is here to help.
Practice Telemedicine Safely With Cybersecurity
To take full advantage of the benefits telemedicine can offer your patients and business it’s important to have a firm understanding of the risks involved with the new technology. Empowering your patients to receive healthcare from the comfort of their homes is mutually beneficial for patients and providers, but it also exposes both parties to cybersecurity threats.
For that, RSI Security can assist!
You’re already on the right track to ensuring your and your clients’ safety with precautions like:
- Robust authentication for devices and accounts
- Safe networks and downloads
- HIPAA-compliant platforms for all communication
However, these aren’t the only ways to keep your clients safe. As technology advances cybercrime is constantly evolving alongside it, and every innovation comes with new security concerns. We’re here to help you understand, identify, and mitigate these very risks. For all of your advanced cybersecurity needs contact RSI Security today!