The COVID pandemic accelerated many trends, from online education to mass resignations in the workplace, but among the most exciting is the rise of telehealth. Telehealth utilizes advanced digital communications technologies to connect healthcare providers with patients through the internet, providing convenience and comfort to both parties.
Even better, because providers can avoid the expenses of physical premises and medical tools and resources, the cost of telehealth can remain affordably low. As a result, most insurance providers include telehealth coverage in their plans, making the service essentially free.
Though the number of telehealth appointments is increasing, many patients still struggle with the idea of sharing sensitive health information over the internet. Is telehealth a trustworthy service, and is there anything patients can do to improve the security of the telehealth system?
Telehealth Itself Is Totally Safe
An online doctor visit is at least as safe as an in-person doctor visit — and in many ways, it could be safer. Telehealth platforms are not the only health providers to send and store sensitive patient information on digital devices and networks; in fact, it is a goal of the Affordable Care Act to promote the use of electronic health records (EHRs) in doctor’s offices, hospitals, medical testing facilities, and other healthcare centers.
EHRs help consolidates patient information into organized and manageable files, so providers can share them with one another easily to ensure efficient cooperation and effective care. Anyone who has used healthcare services in the past 15 years has likely had their information stored as EHRs.
Most telehealth solutions take cybersecurity exceedingly seriously. To protect against system attacks that result in the leak of sensitive patient records, telehealth platforms use myriad cyber defenses, from advanced encryption techniques to consistent staff training to attentive software and hardware updates.
The same cannot always be said about doctors’ offices and hospitals, which are becoming prime targets for cyberattacks due to their inability to maintain effective cybersecurity. Users who are concerned about the potential for breaches in security should take advantage of large and established telehealth platforms, and they may contact the platform’s customer service to learn more about what the company is doing to keep health data safe.
In truth, many healthcare providers tout telehealth as safer than in-person visits — not necessarily because of the enhanced cybersecurity but because of the physical separation between patients and other people they might encounter in healthcare environments. Especially when a patient is sick themselves, utilizing telehealth is a conscientious way to contain what could be a communicable disease and protect doctors, nurses, and other patients from catching a virus. What’s more, because sick patients visit them often, doctor’s offices, urgent care centers, and hospitals tend to be places where viruses and other diseases spread, so patients can keep themselves healthier by utilizing telehealth services when possible.
Some Patients Struggle to Trust Virtual Providers
Putting fears about cybersecurity aside, some patients find themselves untrusting of the healthcare provider they connect with through telehealth. Indeed, most telehealth solutions link a patient with the first available provider, which is not likely to be someone the patient has interacted with before. The prospect of sharing intimate health details with a stranger over the internet is not a welcome one for many patients. However, it is worth noting that any provider working through telehealth has been properly vetted by the platform and does have the essential credentials to be providing medical advice.
Fortunately, patients interested in taking advantage of the benefits of telehealth do not have to resign themselves to using any random healthcare provider with online appointments. As a result of the COVID pandemic, most healthcare providers have some telehealth capabilities. Patients might contact their primary care provider’s offices to inquire about the opportunity to connect through telehealth. In doing so, patients might also ask about cybersecurity efforts the office is making to keep patient information secure.
Telehealth is the next evolution of healthcare, and it is probable that most basic health services will transition to telehealth platforms in the coming years. Patients who are concerned about the trustworthiness of the technology might engage with telehealth for minor health concerns, experimenting with services to get a better sense of how telehealth works. With more experience, most patients find telehealth to be an excellent solution they can trust.