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The world has become far more of a connected place than many of us ever dreamed possible. Today we live in a global society. One where you can look up how to solve almost any problem with the touch of a button. A world where it is completely reasonable to speak with someone across the continent without a second thought.
Perhaps one of the biggest benefits of all of these new connections takes place over a much shorter distance, but a critical one. It is the connection between patients and their doctors. Now more than ever before, patients can speak with a specialist without making big trips to specialized clinics or long drives from rural areas to the local hospital.
Telehealth is an incredible achievement in terms of accessible patient care.
Of course, though, there are struggles associated with utilizing new technologies. The largest of these is security. Hacking medical records and billing information is a real threat that many hospitals and clinics are working diligently to safeguard against. Today tools such as the blockchain can help make big strides in protecting data and overcoming some of the largest security concerns that exist in telehealth.
The Rise of Telehealth
The use of telehealth to reach underserved communities has been on the rise for years. Using electronic patient records and a video call, doctors can check in on patients without forcing them to make the trip to a hospital. It has been a saving grace for many rural locations that may only have small clinics and citizens that struggle to make it to doctor’s appointments that require a great deal of travel.
Although the service had been growing in popularity for years, the COVID-19 pandemic really drove the benefits of telehealth to the forefront of our minds. During the height of the pandemic, telehealth services played a central role in helping hospitals manage the number of patients vying for critical care beds and maintaining limited exposure for patients at the hospital for different reasons.
For example, hospitals could send patients with milder cases home and check in on them using telehealth conferencing rather than keeping them in the hospital when space was limited. The practice undoubtedly helped save lives by freeing up beds for those with more severe cases that needed more round-the-clock care. It also saved a great deal of money — patients that needed to see a doctor but didn’t need to stay at the hospital were able to avoid significant expenses associated with in-patient care.
Rising Security Concerns
Unfortunately, this push for greater online services also opened patients up to a whole different type of concern. In the mad rush to upscale many of the telehealth services that were critical during the height of the COVID-19 pandemic, many telehealth systems managed to fall short on information security. Many of them leave both patients and providers open to leaks in privacy, a lack of operational transparency, health record availability, limited fraud detection services, and identity theft.
Understandably, these issues give a number of people pause and create uncertainty on the value or risk of obtaining telehealth services. Many healthcare organizations are working swiftly to try to address them though. For example, many are incorporating new security measures that will help them meet HIPAA compliance when working on a mobile device, while simple measures such as creating a network diagram can help reduce intrusion and maintain compliance. Tools and security measures that are being implemented include things like:
- User authentication that requires user names, passwords, and some other unique log-in credential
- Limiting password submission attempts and prompting patients to create secure passwords that aren’t easily guessed
- Allowing device locking that will automatically lock and protect data after a period of inactivity
- Hiding call numbers
Other options for increased security might be more incumbent upon the patient. For instance, patients that take the time to understand their connection and how to troubleshoot problems are more likely to keep information secure. Additionally, they are more likely to choose safe passwords and ensure that their health information is protected on their end.
How can Blockchain Make a Difference?
Beyond just the standard security measures, many healthcare providers are also starting to incorporate more big data, artificial intelligence, and blockchain services. All of these fancy technologies can work hand in hand to increase the value and security of telehealth services.
For instance, big data and artificial intelligence can be utilized to examine patient health indicators against local environmental data, genetic data sets, and other known health thresholds to uncover hidden connections that could play a profound role in long-term healthcare outcomes.
Blockchain technology can add a greater layer of security to telehealth services. The technology works by creating an immutable record of transactions that only authorized personnel can access and verify the legitimacy of transactions. Ultimately this means that once data has been created, it cannot be altered or changed by someone like a hacker that is unauthorized. These protections can help increase confidence in data privacy while online.
Telehealth has become immensely popular in the past handful of years, however, there are a number of data and security concerns that may put people at risk. New technologies such as the blockchain and big data can work together to unlock better health outcomes and keep information protected at the highest level. It is an exciting time for patient-doctor relationships.