Sound security practices key to fulfilling telehealth's promise, study shows

Sound security practices key to fulfilling telehealth's promise, study shows


More than 70 percent of respondents polled by cybersecurity firm CynergisTek say they’ll keep using telehealth services, even once the pandemic subsides. But they also say privacy and data security are big concerns – and that  breaches involving virtual care technologies could cause them to stop using telehealth or switch physicians.

According to CynergisTek’s report, which polled more than 5,000 adults in June, more than 54% of respondents have opted for telehealth consults in recent months. Of those who used virtual care during the pandemic, 73 percent said they’ll continue to post-pandemic.

Interestingly, there was something of a gender divide in the polling data, with 79% of male respondents planning to keep using telehealth post-COVID, compared to 67% of females. Millennials and Gen X were comparably enthusiastic (81% and 79%, respectively).

Most of these patients are eyeing telehealth as a way to fill pandemic-era gaps for routine care such as chronic care check-ups (29 percent) or annual physical and children’s wellness exams (27 percent).

At the same time, 48% percent of respondents said they’d be unlikely to use virtual care again if their own protected health information was compromised due to a telemedicine-related breach – women (54%) more so than men (41%).

And CynergisTek found that Baby Boomers and the Silent Generation are the two age cohorts most likely to abandon their use of telehealth should their data be breached (62 and 65 percent respectively).

In an environment where there have already been many headline-grabbing breaches, the unique vulnerabilities of these tools, often exacerbated by the rapid adoption of these new tools, that suggests that telehealth’s staying power could depend a lot on how secure the tools are. Investment, education and best practices will be key.

“The rapid growth of telehealth has accelerated to a level we wouldn’t have expected to see over a 10-year timeframe,” said Caleb Barlow, president and CEO of CynergisTek, in a statement.

“However, major vulnerabilities are emerging around privacy and security standards for video conferencing and messaging apps when used for telehealth (such as consumer technologies like Zoom), which can be easily infiltrated – providing hackers with additional opportunities to breach highly-sensitive information.”

“We must remain vigilant in our efforts to protect and secure telehealth and other digital health technologies,” said Russell P. Branzell, president and CEO of the College of Healthcare Information Management Executives, in a statement. “With the opportunities of digital health also come inherent security risks – but digital health’s risks are manageable. It is important for healthcare providers to take data privacy and security seriously in order to ensure that digital health platforms like telehealth remain an essential part of the future of patient care.”

“The first step is to assess how the data is encrypted and who is authorized to access this data,” said David Finn, executive vice president of strategic innovation at CynergisTek. “From there, IT teams should work closely with leadership to fill in the security gaps on telehealth solutions that protect patients while also providing the convenience.”

Twitter: @MikeMiliardHITN
Email the writer: [email protected]

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