Consumer Advocate: Make sure online medical information is secure | Local

We’re working from home, doing more shopping online, video-chatting with friends we haven’t seen since

We’re working from home, doing more shopping online, video-chatting with friends we haven’t seen since before COVID, and increasingly, we’re even visiting the doctor electronically. According to research, healthcare providers are seeing between 50 to 175 more patients with the advent of telemedicine, or telehealth. In fact, an estimated 20 percent of all emergency room visits and 24 percent of routine office visits are now delivered virtually.

This emergence of telemedicine, with its digital health records, internet-connected medical devices, patient wellness apps, and an increasing amount of third parties entering the health supply chain has created many benefits, but has also exposed the industry to vulnerabilities that cyber criminals regularly attempt to exploit.

Any data transferred over the internet runs the risk of interception by bad actors, and healthcare has long been a preferred target for cybercriminals. In 2019, healthcare data breaches cost the industry more than $4 billion. In addition, many of the current-day telehealth platforms do not meet HIPAA requirements and lack proper safeguards for securing your data. The same connectivity that makes telehealth possible may also create threats to patients. Protecting patient health information and providing remote services doesn’t always fit together easily.

The biggest risk for patients is lack control of the collection, usage and sharing of their patient health information. For instance, remote monitoring devices built with sensors to detect when someone falls down may also collect information on other activities patients wish to be kept private—including that their home is unoccupied at certain times or the types of activity they participate in. Even with security measures, any transfer does have a potential for a breach.

Your healthcare provider has much of the responsibility for ensuring your privacy is protected during a video visit, but consumers have a role to play as well. There are a number of ways you can help keep your patient health information private and secure when using it for telemedicine:

Ask questions.

Before your sign up for a telehealth appointment, ask questions of your provider. Ask how they secure the information you’re sharing electronically. Ask them how they encrypt the data sent over the internet to keep your medical information safe. Find out if a video of your visit is stored. If no video is stored, there is no chance of someone other than the patient or to view the visit.

Beef up password security.

When using a telemedicine app or online tool, use a password or multi-factor authentication method so that you are the only one who can access your information. Use a strong password and update it often. And, never share your password with anyone.

Using mobile devices.

Research mobile telemedicine apps before you download and install any of them. Be sure to use known app websites or trusted sources. Read the terms of service and the privacy notice of the mobile app to verify that it will perform only the functions you approve. Consider installing or using an encryption software for your device. Encryption software is now widely available and increasingly affordable. Consider installing a remote wiping and/or remote disabling program on your mobile devices. The remote wipe feature allows you to permanently delete data stored on a lost or stolen mobile device. Remote disabling enables you to lock data stored on a lost or stolen mobile device, and unlock the data if or when the device is recovered.

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