Telehealth Privacy Concerns, Regulations, and the Vulnerable Areas to Focus On

Telehealth solutions deliver faster and more convenient patient treatment and facilitate medical operations for physicians. Yet, with the growing demand for telehealth products, data privacy concerns and issues have increased. Patients worry about their data privacy because of frequent cyberattacks that aim to steal and misuse sensitive healthcare information.

Telehealth apps with adopted cybersecurity strategies mitigate these risks. By investing in data protection during the software development process and implementation stages, organizations get reliable products and encourage the shift towards virtual healthcare.

Proactive cybersecurity measures increase patient engagement with telehealth services, as users are assured of their data confidentiality. Telehealth solutions with improved security also enable quality remote healthcare services in rural and underserved areas.

Read on to learn core PHI privacy regulations, the most vulnerable areas for cyber attacks, and how to ensure data security. 

Overview of Privacy and Security Concerns in Telehealth

From March 2022 to March 2023, the healthcare sector experienced the highest average data breach cost — nearly $11 million. The financial industry followed with an average cost of $5.9 million, and pharmaceuticals with $5.04 million.

Telehealth Privacy Concerns, Regulations, and the Vulnerable Areas to Focus On 1

According to Statista, 43% of healthcare clients have concerns about data security within the telehealth sector, and, as you can see, for a reason. At the same time, 80% of respondents believe that telehealth benefits their ability to access care. These statistics show that the demand for telehealth is high, and people generally acknowledge its benefits despite the concerns. However, developers need to address telehealth privacy more effectively to reduce the negative impact of data breaches and make patients trust healthcare providers that use telehealth. 

Patients often worry about their sensitive information within medical facilities due to numerous data breaches that have happened throughout the years. For instance, in 2022, cybercriminals attacked ARcare’s software and extracted confidential patient data. Some of the private information was published online. That same year, OneTouchPoint dealt with a similar attack. OneTouchPoint delivered services to medical facilities and detected that several files had been locked. The company discovered unauthorized access to its systems in the preceding months. As a result, more than 30 healthcare organizations reported breaches involving patient and other healthcare data. 

Telehealth Privacy Concerns, Regulations, and the Vulnerable Areas to Focus On 2

Core Telehealth Privacy Regulations To Follow Globally

Different government institutions worldwide developed sets of regulations implemented at the legislative level to resolve privacy and security concerns in telehealth. The regulations oblige medical facilities to protect patient data during treatment and administrative work while processing the information. They also guide software engineering companies on how to develop telehealth software for ultimate data security. 

HIPAA

Since its enactment in 1996, the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act (HIPAA) has been applied across the US to protect individual’s private health data. Telehealth solution developers and adopters must note that the regulation covers healthcare clearinghouses, medical plans, and health providers that transfer patient data. Understanding the data flows through these channels allows developers to better plan data security measures for safe data transmission and storage.

HIPAA applies to the following information:

  • Patient’s mental or physical health conditions
  • Details of healthcare delivery to patients
  • Payment data for medical care

Read more about HIPAA-compliant payment processing for telehealth

HITECH

The Health Information Technology for Economic and Clinical Health Act (HITECH) passed in 2009 aimed to facilitate the transition to electronic health records (EHRs) within healthcare organizations. With EHRs, healthcare providers streamlined the delivery of quality care while patients received expanded access to their medical records. HITECH is integrated with HIPAA, requiring physicians to follow regulations in both legal acts. HITECH ensures:

  • Patient insurance and demographic data must be protected
  • Penalty system for willful or unintentional regulation neglect
  • Patients have the right to demand their health info in electronic form
PIPEDA

The Personal Information Protection and Electronic Documents Act (PIPEDA), effective since 2001 in Canada, outlines how private organizations, including medical institutions, must handle the personal data of their patients and clients. The regulation encompasses all individuals involved in commercial activities that deal with personal data. PIPEDA provides strict guidelines concerning the acquisition of individual consent for data use and collection as well as privacy protection, which must be considered while implementing a telehealth solution. According to PIPEDA:

  • Organizations must explain the purpose of data collection before or during the collection.
  • Consent and knowledge of the patient are a must for data use, collection, or disclosure.
  • Personal data collection must be narrowed to pieces necessary for identified goals.
  • Data collection must be conducted by lawful means.
GDPR

The General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR), enacted by the European Union (EU) in 2018, ensures strict data protection within organizations worldwide if they collect data related to EU individuals. The regulation classifies health-related information as a special category of data, which includes personal information about health status. Such information encompasses medical records (prescriptions, examination reports, X-rays, lab tests, etc.), financial data, and administrative details (invoices, certificates for sick leave, appointments, etc.). Telehealth solution providers must partner with cloud providers that integrate end-to-end encryption. In the future, the EU plans to create a secure cloud environment to limit data downloads. Users will access it through a virtual environment just for review.

GDPR implies:

  • Healthcare organizations must get informed consent from patients before processing their data
  • Healthcare providers must obtain minimum amount of information required to provide services
  • In case of data breach or loss, organizations must notify patients within 72 hours

Following the security standards of a specific country, depending on your target market, you ensure that your product attracts more end users due to its reliability. You will also avoid legal prosecutions concerning data transfer, access management, and storage. The regulations should serve as the North Star that guides medical software development toward security.

5 Vulnerable Areas To Focus on for Reducing Cyber Risk 

According to the recent Deloitte report, telehealth privacy encompasses five main areas: wearable security, ID control and authentication, safety monitoring, DevSecOps, and security training. These areas store vast amounts of personal information and rely on interconnected systems, which makes them vulnerable to cyberattacks. The breaches in these areas extend beyond financial losses and stress caused by personal data disclosure. Understanding these vulnerabilities helps develop robust security measures to mitigate risks. Read below to learn in detail about each area and ensure you address all of them for reliable implementation and maintenance of your telehealth solution. 

Telehealth Privacy Concerns, Regulations, and the Vulnerable Areas to Focus On 3

Security of Healthcare Wearables 

The global market of healthcare wearables exceeded $25 billion in 2023 and will reach $76 billion by 2029. Wearable devices have always been vulnerable to telehealth security risks due to their operation through the cloud and remote data transfer. Besides, most of the information they generate falls under the definition of protected health data. For example, when wearables send vital health signs back to providers, they become part of confidential records and require protection.

Healthcare software providers must enable patients to delete their private data as per their or legal requirements. Besides, if a patient shares images or other data with a doctor during a virtual session or monitoring program, a Telehealth app must encrypt the information to ensure data security.

User ID Control and Wearable Authentication

It might seem obvious, but one of the vulnerable areas is user identification. Healthcare facilities must check the identity of the patient to ensure their authenticity before providing access to their profile. Otherwise, attackers can view any personal health information without even the slightest barriers.

To enable verification, telehealth solutions usually require multi-factor authentication (MFA) and even face or touch ID within a medical app. Some apps apply verification via SMS since it requires a patient’s personal phone number. Besides security benefits, MFA eliminates the need for password use whenever the end user accesses the app or device.

Extra Authentication for Real-time Health Tracking

Patients usually use telehealth devices at home but may also need to utilize a device or app in a different location. Since healthcare wearables track patients in the real world, unusual locations add more security risks.

One method to ensure flexibility of telehealth use and security is the rule-setting approach, which is also common in banking. With credit card apps, users can establish the acceptance rules for purchases made in locations outside the specified region. This means that when a user wants to spend money in another country, extra authentication will be required.

Applying the same rules to healthcare wearables provides patients with an extra security layer since the app tracks their location and notifies them about any suspicious behavior.

However, telehealth solutions shouldn’t increase inconvenience by imposing extra steps for device use. The key is to allow patients to identify location rules and activate additional authentication only when the application exceeds predefined parameters. 

DevSecOps

Telehealth adoption involves integrating services with the provider’s systems, which means you must consider the peculiarities and limitations of both. Therefore, telehealth software development requires customization and the implementation of security controls during the first project stages to ensure the app and device protect the data on multiple levels. This development approach is called DevSecOps (development, security, operations) and has proved its importance for data confidentiality. Companies that rely on DevSecOps reduce the risks of security breaches and strengthen their reputation among patients and physicians.

DevSecOps can increase the cost of telehealth adoption, but it is still less expensive than fixing the consequences of massive data breaches.

Data Security Culture

While encouraging patients to use telehealth solutions, physicians need to inform them about the associated risks. Even though an organization is responsible for most risk mitigation, patients must understand their share of responsibility. For instance, medical professionals should warn patients that they must not rent or gift their personal medical devices to other users. Besides, medical devices contain PHI and can be connected to other devices very carefully, as it increases privacy issues.

Awareness of these areas helps avoid common mistakes during telehealth solution development and implementation. Providers will know how to select a reliable telehealth service that will help to stay regulatory compliant in terms of PHI protection. Physicians and other medical employees will also handle patient data more carefully since they understand the consequences of misuse and poor security policies. 

Telehealth Privacy Practices Our Company Follows While Building Telemedicine Apps

To ensure telehealth security and privacy, our experts integrate secure communication protocols, data encryption, access management, and data loss prevention into the solutions we build. Some other ways to maintain long-term protection include regular audits and software updates. Check our practices on the privacy of healthcare software to get a better idea of what technical hacks help protect patient data.

Telehealth Privacy Concerns, Regulations, and the Vulnerable Areas to Focus On 4

 

Implementing Secure Communication Protocols

Implementing secure communication protocols such as secure sockets layer (SSL) and transport layer security (TLS) is essential in telemedicine apps. These protocols ensure data encryption and prevent unauthorized access. SSL guarantees that information exchanged between an app and server is confidential and allows the app to verify the server’s identity. TLS is commonly used to enable privacy and data protection for Internet communications. This protocol encrypts data transfers between web applications and servers.

Consistent Data Encryption 

Ensure data encryption, whether the app is connected to the cloud or physical storage. Data encryption safeguards data against modifications, leaks, and theft by converting it into a secret code that can only be deciphered with a specific digital key. This protection method is especially effective for data transmission using WiFi or LTE networks since it eliminates the risk of unauthorized interception.

Patient Data Access Management

Telehealth providers can implement access control measures to analyze user behavior and detect unauthorized access attempts. These measures encompass biometric scans, authentication methods like passwords and usernames, and two-factor authentication. 

With patient data access management, telehealth apps allow users to access data based on their individual roles within the healthcare facility. It prevents unauthorized access and ensures the app collects logs to enhance data security measures.

Implementing Data Loss Prevention Measures

To protect sensitive information from leaks, you can apply Data Loss Prevention (DLP) tools. They monitor network and app activities, including file sharing and messaging. DLP tools detect and respond to potential telehealth privacy concerns.

Some DLP methods include artificial intelligence (AI) and antivirus software, which are used to identify suspicious activities. The tools usually apply specific DLP policies with information about data sharing, labeling, and protection rules. They compare the rules to software activities to ensure the data is protected according to the policies.

Regular Audits

Regular audits allow developers to detect potential issues and address security vulnerabilities as soon as they arise. They must become an essential part of telehealth software management and be stated in your organization’s internal security rules.

Usually, we schedule frequent system checks and scan the system for new vulnerabilities as part of our support and maintenance services. This approach helps maintain high data protection standards in our customers’ software.

Software Security Updates

Keeping software updated with new security patches protects apps from cyber threats. Cyber attackers constantly search for software vulnerabilities and apply new methods to bypass existing security patches, especially outdated ones. Security updates ensure that all weaknesses are resolved in time. With a systematic update schedule, developers verify that all apps run the latest versions of security patches.

These are the core security approaches we implement in our telehealth software development services and apps. Focusing on data security, we can refine existing solutions and develop new products integrating data protection measures from the start. Our team can also audit your existing system to evaluate its security and performance.

Takeaway

Even though many patients switch to telehealth, they are concerned about their privacy due to recent data breaches in healthcare facilities. To encourage patients and medical institutions to rely on telehealth software and avoid penalties, tech vendors must integrate data security functionality right from the project start. 

With secure communication protocols, data encryption, access management, data loss prevention tools, regular audits, and software updates, telehealth apps become considerably protected from cyber attacks. 

Consult our team to ensure your telehealth solution is secure and follows international data protection regulations. 

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Written by:
Roman Konstantinov Roman Konstantinov Managing Partner & Co-Founder
Roman is the co-founder of Empeek who brings a breadth of knowledge to build, scale and transform healthcare organizations. He specializes in revitalizing struggling businesses and turning them into profitable enterprises. By emphasizing automation and effectively navigating the transition from startup to a sustainable and scalable model, Roman drives remarkable transformations to ensure long-term success.

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