The digital revolution has greatly influenced the healthcare industry as the number of IT systems in healthcare exceeds the number in any other sphere. Everything, right from healthcare IT, telemedicine, analytics to patient numbers have witnessed tremendous growth over the last few years. Telemedicine is one of the major innovations in health care services; not only from the technological side but also from a social perspective as it provides patients better accessibility to health care services and improves the quality of medical care. The recent spike in the use of telemedicine in place of in-person visits is a great advantage for both patients and providers, particularly during the COVID-19 pandemic. While the benefits of telemedicine are quite significant, as with any other information technology (IT) service, it is vulnerable to cyber threats. Ensuring accuracy in online data entry and data protection compliance can be challenging for healthcare organizations, particularly for those handling multiple data that is subject to laws of different jurisdictions. Confidentiality breaches can occur at any stage of data transmission. Healthcare providers can use a variety of cybersecurity techniques and practices to protect their privacy and keep their patients’ data secure. When outsourcing any healthcare process, it is important to ensure that you are partnering with reputable business process outsourcing companies that have data security built into their processes.
Relevance of Telemedicine Services
Telemedicine involves the use of telecommunication technology to diagnose and treat patients. Reports suggest that the telemedicine industry is expected to gain a projected revenue growth of $3.5 billion by the end of 2022. The technology allows smooth transmission of communications between the patient and healthcare provider as well as the transmission of medical, imaging and personal health information (PHI) from one location to another. Telemedicine helps patients enjoy unprecedented convenience, reduced costs and receive the best possible results quickly at the click of a button, while providers benefit from a new revenue channel and less strain on office resources.
Ensuring Security in Telemedicine – Key Points of Focus
While the upsides of this technology are many, data security is a matter of key concern. Possibility of data breach can make patients uncomfortable about sharing personal information; thus, negatively affecting the provider’s reputation and bottom line. In order to prevent hackers from accessing data or holding it for ransom, healthcare providers must clearly focus on implementing cybersecurity policies that center on protecting key patient information. In fact, IT teams must create an infrastructure that allows for secure and remote communication between telemedicine providers and their patients, even without reducing the amount of security that sensitive data receives.
If not implemented carefully, a telemedicine rollout can significantly put patient data at risk. While performing telehealth consultation or online medical data entry, healthcare providers use various applications, devices and software programs to connect with patients. Data security assurances are difficult to guarantee in such situations as the device may not fully belong to the provider. Lags in security updates, insecure connections and a lack of visibility into public networks can lead to health system vulnerability.
Here discussed are some key points which healthcare providers need to focus on to ensure data security –
- Maintain Compliance – Adhering to HIPAA’s telemedicine privacy rule guidelines is important for medical professionals providing telehealth services to patients. These guidelines provide a roadmap to medical professionals for safe and secure teleconsultation. The rule ensures acceptance of communicating electronically protected health information (ePHI) at distance. Many medical professionals believe they are following HIPAA guidelines when ePHI at distance communication is solely between the patient and the physician. Ensuring direct, secure communication between the patient and the physician is vital. It is also important that the channel on which the communication is being transmitted is also secure. HIPAA’s telemedicine privacy rule guidelines ensure- unauthorized parties are prevented from accessing ePHI, ePHI communications are monitored to prevent malicious or accidental breaches and the integrity of ePHI is protected by implementing a system of secure ePHI communication at distance.
- Encryption – Use encryption and other related techniques to secure patient health data or information stored on Big Data platforms. This will ensure protection of personal privacy, compliance, and also reduce the impact of inadvertent data leaks and cyber attacks. Choose a technology platform that uses encryption to prevent unauthorized access to video transmissions and other data. Encryption of critical data is a great way to ensure protection against unwelcome surveillance. It also helps to remove security, compliance and privacy concerns that hinder cloud adoption. For this reason, consumer applications like Skype and Facetime are not appropriate for use in telemedicine.
- Ensuring Application Security – As part of a telemedicine consultation, various applications are essential to connect patients and physicians. However, these applications can put healthcare providers at risk because the IT teams may be unable to control the level of security they provide. In addition, if remote users update their applications directly after the patch release, they may be more vulnerable to cybersecurity attacks. In such situations, web application firewalls protect health networks from some of the most common application vulnerabilities.
- Network Access Control (NAC) – NACs make it possible to view each IoT device connected to and operating within the health network. This high level of transparency is particularly ideal for telemedicine providers conducting consultations over mobile devices (like tablets, smartphones, and portable medical devices). A NAC technology can rightly identify each device the moment it connects to the health network. Following connectivity, data security can be easily tracked and the device can be monitored. Automated responses can be easily generated to anyone who exhibits unusual, threatening behavior. Furthermore, NACs can use micro-segmentation techniques to limit device access and remove the data that is necessary to complete their functions.
- Integrated Management and Analytics – Healthcare practices or employees working from their own individual devices are on the rise. In addition, patients and others also use the healthcare network and these additional users increase the activity level on the network. To keep track of these users, a centralized view of the activity and security alerts must be available and this view is essential even when the IT team implements a set of separate, isolated security tools.
- Data Encryption at Application (app) Level – With data encryption, healthcare providers can ensure safety of data stored in relational databases, graph databases and diverse big data platforms. The key is to install data within the application level. Data should be encrypted within the application itself when it is generated and processed before it is stored at the database level. This will ensure effective encryption policies. Sensitive data will be protected at every stage in the computing and storage processes, and wherever it is copied or transmitted. The data can be accessed only by authenticated and authorized app users. Even database administrators cannot access encrypted data.
- Patient Education – The prominent role of patients in protecting their own individual data privacy and security cannot be overlooked. Patients must fully comply with data security best practices like – strong passwords, virus and malware protection, and firewalls wherever appropriate on the devices that they use for telemedicine. As they are not in a clinical setting, patients should be mindful of their physical location and conduct the video visit from a place where they are not likely to be overheard.
Healthcare providers offering telemedicine services often fear the chances of data breach. The most common threats today are data interception and unauthorized access to data flowing through networks. Ensuring confidentiality and security of sensitive patient data is one of the important aspects in telemedicine services. In fact, increasing data security threats drive the trend of outsourcing these functions. Finding and maintaining the right professionals and incorporating key strategies to effectively meet these threats is challenging. Utilizing outsourced data entry services can ensure security and confidentiality of sensitive patient data and reduces cyber security risks.