5 Ways Healthcare Providers Are Ensuring Patient Security During Quarantine Remote Visits

Due to the coronavirus, telehealth is more applicable than ever. Many people cannot leave their homes or do not want to, but their need to receive ongoing healthcare remains. Technology allows providers to see their patients remotely without the risk of contracting or spreading COVID-19.

Even in these unprecedented times, healthcare professionals cannot overlook patient data privacy. Here are five ways for healthcare providers to keep security a top-of-mind concern as they conduct remote visits during quarantines.

1. Sending Single-Use Text Links to Launch Consultations

Since it's easy for cybercriminals to send phishing emails appearing as messages from telehealth providers, some companies offer a different way for users to begin telehealth appointments. 

A Swedish digital health startup called Kry recently brought its LIVI Connect platform to the U.S. market. Kry, which established its telemedicine service in Europe first, says the number of clinical consultations handled through the app has more than doubled since February.

Providers register by providing their emails. Then, they can distribute single-use text message links to patients to start their consultations. Giving people access that way removes the chance of email phishing. Text message phishing does happen, but less frequently than by email.  Once healthcare professionals use the platform, the service does not store any medical data or recordings. 

2. Restricting the Use of Patient Information 

Another way secure telehealth platforms ensure patient privacy is by specifying how or if an app collects certain information from users. For example, Aarogya Setu Mitr is a platform released in the Indian market. 

Besides offering telehealth consultations from 100 verified doctors, the app allows people to order medications through online pharmacies and get "doorstep lab tests," whereby a partner company collects a person's specimen from their home and provides the results later. 

Aarogya Setu Mitr's privacy policy also details the type of patient information collected and clarifies why. For example, the app gathers a person's IP address, postal code and device details when they sign up. However, it only uses the information to contact a patient or to analyze how people use and access the portal. Moreover, the company encrypts and securely manages all submitted data. 

3. Working With Secure Faxes

The medical sector still heavily relies on fax transmissions, and that remains true during the coronavirus. Telehealth practitioners may need to fax prescriptions to a patient's closest pharmacy after a remote visit, for example.

Online fax platform transmissions happen via an encrypted system, making them more secure than methods using Wi-Fi, Ethernet or traditional phone lines. Also, since many secure fax providers offer their services via the cloud, the setup is perfect for the remote nature of telemedicine. 

Some healthcare providers primarily assisting patients with diabetes find secure telehealth platforms particularly useful during the COVID-19 pandemic. Diabetes often causes immunosuppression, which could raise COVID-19 infection risk. Many national leaders and public health experts also strongly urge people with suppressed immune systems to stay home and self-isolate, even if they do not feel sick or have symptoms of the coronavirus. 

Dr. Mark H. Schutta, medical director of the Penn Rodebaugh Diabetes Center, said he uses telemedicine with other methods to communicate with patients. He supports telemedicine but often asks patients to utilize other means, too. Dr. Schutta brought up the example of having patients write down their glucose readings and faxing him the results, thereby allowing him to make medication adjustments without scheduling in-person visits. 

That's just one way that secure faxes will continue to remain relevant. Many providers may conclude that they are even more essential for ensuring a high quality of care since providers may work from home more often now and not have access to their physical fax equipment. 

4. Performing Security Self-Assessments

A 2019 article gave an in-depth look at why medical providers must perform security assessments on the telehealth platforms they use or are considering. The piece discussed how telemedicine users should learn about data storage, transmission, privacy policies and other aspects to determine if a tool would maintain patient data privacy. 

Many telemedicine companies now let healthcare providers use their platforms for free to cope with the COVID-19 crisis. For example, Bluestream Health offers a solution that's compliant with U.S. patient privacy laws and does not require a person to set up an account or download anything to start using it. 

The increase in telemedicine tools for providers at no cost is undoubtedly a positive development. However, medical professionals should not let the opportunity to get something for free make them forget about upholding patient privacy. 

5. Becoming More Aware of Cybersecurity Best Practices

As more physicians use electronic health records, apps and other high-tech options to manage and track patient care, most have had no choice but to learn how to stay safe online. However, the cybersecurity safeguards they know probably applied to their workplace networks. Thus, physicians may not think to use them if they see patients from home. 

The American Medical Association and the American Hospital Association released a guide suggesting how medical providers should secure their home networks. The publication recommends that those professionals think of home-based infrastructure as a miniature version of their workplace one. Moreover, they should understand that cybercriminals could attack any of the numerous linked devices and make it impossible to get online. 

Government authorities in the U.S. also issued an alert about how cybercriminals exploit the coronavirus crisis to attract victims. The information mentioned attacks against remote access and teleworking infrastructure as observed threats. Medical professionals using telehealth platforms must increase their preventive measures so that cyberattacks do not hinder their attempts to treat patients remotely or compromise data. 

The Coronavirus Put Telehealth in the Spotlight

The ongoing coronavirus pandemic makes telehealth platforms especially relevant. As providers use them, they must follow the strategies here, and others, to continually uphold patient data privacy. 

Kayla Matthews is a MedTech journalist and writer. Her work has also been featured on Medical Economics, HIT Consultant, HealthIT Outcomes and Health IT Answers. To read more from Kayla, please visit her blog here.

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