Physician use of telehealth services has increased dramatically due to the COVID-19 crisis. A survey by American Well found that just 22 percent of doctors saw patients via telehealth in 2018. According to data from McKinsey & Co., providers are now seeing up to 175 times as many patients via telehealth as they did before the pandemic. As of May 2020, 46 percent of U.S. consumers were using telehealth services.
The term “telehealth” refers to the delivery of healthcare using technologies such as audio and video conferencing. Although it has obvious limitations, telehealth offers many benefits to both providers and patients, and its use was already on the rise before the pandemic. According to the American Well survey, the number of doctors utilizing telehealth had increased 340 percent between 2015 and 2019 across numerous specialties.
But the adoption of telehealth technology is not without risk. Healthcare providers must comply with the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act (HIPAA) and other laws and regulations that mandate patient privacy and data security. Providers also need telehealth solutions that can deliver a high-quality patient experience.
Meeting HIPAA Requirements
HIPAA requires a healthcare provider to “ensure the confidentiality, integrity, and availability of all electronic protected health information” that the provider “creates, receives, maintains, or transmits.” The law mandates that providers implement appropriate physical, technical and administrative safeguards and take reasonable steps to limit access to patient data.
The best way to meet these mandates is to adopt a HIPAA-compliant telehealth platform such as Cisco Webex for Healthcare, which ensures strong data protection through end-to-end encryption. Cisco implements all the relevant HIPAA controls and hosts its platform in hardened data center facilities, with geographic diversity for resilience.
In their rush to implement telehealth, however, many healthcare providers began using the video calling and texting features that are available on most smartphones. The Department of Health and Human Services Office for Civil Rights (OCR), which oversees enforcement of the HIPAA Privacy and Security Rules, said that providers would not be subject to penalties for HIPAA violations or data breaches if they use these tools “in good faith.” Providers must still take steps to maintain the privacy of patient data and meet HIPAA mandates in all other areas of practice.
Ensuring a High-Quality Experience
Once the health emergency has ended, the existing HIPAA rules regarding telehealth will go back into place. Healthcare providers who wish to utilize telehealth long-term will need to implement a HIPAA-compliant solution. Cisco Webex for Healthcare provides secure communication channels to reduce the risk of a data breach and HIPAA fines and penalties.
What’s more, consumer-grade video calling tools often have choppy video and poor audio. Cisco Webex for Healthcare provides HD video and audio to maximize the quality of virtual consultations. It also integrates collaboration tools that improve communication between clinical and administrative staff, and makes it possible to deliver virtual training and easily record training sessions for on-demand viewing.
Telehealth can create efficiencies, relieve the strain on overburdened practices and increase access to healthcare services. While the federal government has relaxed HIPAA requirements to enable the use of telehealth during the pandemic, providers will need to ensure that ongoing use of telehealth doesn’t compromise data privacy or patient satisfaction. The Cisco-certified experts at Cerium can show you how Webex for Healthcare can provide the security and high-quality experience your practice demands.