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The COVID-19 pandemic radically changed how we work and go about our lives. Before the pandemic, most employees would work from an office, and now more people are now working from home. The same goes for teletherapy. We used to all drive to the doctor’s office whenever we needed to talk with a therapist, but now we can simply log onto a telehealth platform and see a doctor face-to-face from the comfort of our homes.

While the ability to get support from anywhere is very helpful, there are some concerns, especially when it comes to cybersecurity. Hackers will take any chance they can to steal patient data, so it is up to telehealth companies to keep them protected. Let’s talk about the bad intentions of cybercriminals, how they steal the data, and what you can do to help your patients.

Why Hackers Want Patient Information

The main objective of a cybercriminal is to steal your information so they can use it for malicious means, and the data that patients provide to their doctors and therapists are a gold mine. That is one of the reasons why PHI (protected health information) is some of the most sought-after data on the internet and is the reason behind the most cyberattacks in 2022. When it comes to taking that patient information, hackers often target telehealth platforms because they are online and easy to access through the internet.

The fact is that hackers can do a lot with stolen patient data. At a minimum, they can use credit card and social security numbers to take out fake loans, order fraudulent prescriptions, and even use email addresses and names to send out phishing emails to more victims. That data can also be sold to other criminals over the black market, and from there, it can be difficult for a patient to recover what is theirs.

Hackers can also use the data they recover during therapy sessions to extort the patients with the goal of having them pay a hefty sum of money to prevent a leak of their private information. This has become a more common occurrence as of late, and it is not good for the customer’s financials or their mental health. In fact, becoming a victim of cybercrime can be very stressful, and it can be bad enough that it can send someone that is recovering from substance abuse back to drugs or alcohol because they think it can make them feel better.

While the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act (HIPAA) covers who can see patient information and how that data should be protected, that typically only applies to healthcare providers. HIPAA does not provide the same protections to other companies, such as life insurance organizations and state agencies, so if data is used incorrectly at these organizations, it could mean big trouble for the patient.

Hacking Methods

Cybercrime in the medical industry has become such an issue that Congress is looking at the situation and proposing potential solutions to mitigate the problem. However, it really falls upon the healthcare company and the teletherapy organization to protect their patients, and doing so starts with recognizing the methods that hackers use to gain access. By understanding these threats, you can create the proper protections. Examples of hacker tactics include:

  • Phishing Emails – The hacker sends a fake communication to the healthcare employee or patient asking them to log in by clicking a link, which opens the door for the hacker. It only takes one person to fall for the scam for the criminal to gain access to the network.
  • API Attack – When your telehealth app communicates with other software, it can create vulnerabilities that can allow a hacker to sneak into the network.
  • Call Interception – A patient calls a telehealth platform but criminal answers instead and asks the patient to provide information or give them access to their computer. Patients should always verify that they are speaking to a real representative.
  • Human Error – A telehealth operator forgets to log out at the end of a session, uses a weak password, or fails to authenticate the person on the other end. These are human errors that can lead to major issues.

The point is that there are many ways that hackers can sneak their way into your teletherapy platform and either steal patient data, so vigilance to protect that information is key.

How To Protect Patient Data

Needless to say, there are many reasons to gear up your cybersecurity in 2022, and that starts with proper training. In addition to advising your staff of the risks, tell them how to protect their accounts by using proper passwords, ensuring that their data is always encrypted, and always verify the caller on the other end. Health providers can also help customers by telling them how to be safe when they call in for teletherapy, and if they are not confident with their skills to properly use the platform, then they should probably go in for an in-person consultation.

The beauty of telehealth is that both the patient and the therapist can do a session from anywhere, but you must be careful in public places. Both parties should install a virtual private network on their tablets and cell phones, which will disguise their location and automatically encrypt incoming and outgoing data. Also, all users must be cautious about using public Wi-Fi because hackers can create fake networks, and if you connect, then you are really connecting to the criminal’s device. When getting teletherapy, it’s better to have the sessions safely at home.

Another factor that can contribute to lax security measures is burnout by the therapist themselves. Lately, there has been a trend of many therapists and psychologists experiencing feelings of burnout, especially after the tumultuous events of the last several years. When we are overworked, we tend to miss the finer details, and one misstep could lead to a breach. So, therapists need to have a work/life balance where they clock out at a regular time every day and don’t overbook their patient visits. Also, getting seven to nine hours of sleep every night will ensure that medical professionals wake up feeling refreshed and clear-headed.

As you can see, it is paramount that teletherapy apps and the people that run them are equipped with proper cybersecurity measures. Protecting patient data is not only important for the health of your patients, but it may also be the law.