The COVID-19 pandemic has prompted social distancing as a safety measure across the country. How this new normal affects general health care can be seen in the rise of telehealth services, as people are encouraged to use them to limit in-person interactions with medical staff to help prevent the spread of COVID-19.
But like any online activity, there are security risks involved for patients’ personal data and companies’ private information. How can patients and doctors ensure each parties’ information is protected?
“Telehealth was trending upward before the pandemic, and there were already privacy and security concerns,” says Stephen Hyduchak, CEO of Aver, an identity-verification service. “But now those are heightened as people want immediate care and are ready to accept the exchange of privacy to receive that.”
According to Hyduchak, medical data is some of the most sensitive information, making it a prime target for hackers. Though HIPAA and other regulations have long been in place, well before more general privacy laws were instituted, needing to share more of your medical history with the telehealth doctors makes the entire communication more vulnerable in a variety of ways. “Applications get hacked,” says Hyduchak. “Also, IT infrastructure and cybersecurity often aren’t up to speed at hospitals.
Hyduchak suggests using these security practices when using telehealth services:
- Double-check before downloading the app. “Your healthcare provider may have a preferred app that you can download from its website,” Hyduchak says. “That’s the safest route. Alternatively, your company may offer this service too. If so, check with human resources to make sure the information is correct before downloading. Otherwise, be sure to use a reputable online store to download the app.”
- Consider online app reviews and recommendations from your network. “Reputable review sites can give you an objective look at apps and tele-med services out there, but many reviews focus on capability, speed, and convenience, so you may have to dig a little deeper regarding security,” Hyduchak says. “That’s where your personal network comes in. Query people you know who are using the app you’re considering. And if the app is relatively unknown, you don’t want to be one of the first to use it."
- Beware of phishing. “The basic rule for most cybersecurity measures very much applies to telemedicine: always verify a link or attachment before opening it,” says Hyduchak. “There are coronavirus-based phishing campaigns by hackers. Their aim is to get you to click onto a malicious telehealth link.”
- Learn how the service uses your data. “Look for telemedicine providers that explain their use of data that you share, usually doing this in writing with a code of conduct,” Hyduchak says. “You have to make sure the telehealth service is reputable and that it’s following all HIPPA rules. Also, only disclose relevant information that is absolutely essential.”
According to Hyduchak, with telehealth services, a patient can see a doctor in isolation from their smart devices, so it’s a close to ideal platform during an outbreak like this. But users should know, having awareness of and using security measures is essential because the stakes are higher.
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