Telehealth communication has become the norm for receiving adequate health care since the onslaught of the COVID-19 pandemic. While social distancing is a primary concern, virtual communications are leading to a rise in complications regarding doctor-patient confidentiality: What is at risk when in-person treatment is transferred to on-screen treatment and is anything being put into place to protect your valuable health data?
Telehealth is the technological approach to providing both clinical and non-clinical health care. For example, an online patient portal that allows you to see your test results, a mobile app to track your health, videoconferencing consultations, and remote monitoring for patients who need round-the-clock care are all means of providing virtual health care services when patients are unable to attend in-person appointments.
Whether you’re discussing your mental health with your therapist or your physical health with your doctor, your electronic protected health information (ePHI) in the wrong hands can lead to detrimental consequences like the loss of professional reputation, social ostracization, or other forms of public discrimination. And as the majority of teleconferencing platforms are not being monitored by Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act (HIPAA) regulations and most individuals are not aware of their privacy rights, the likelihood of data breaches is increasing.
Here’s what you need to know about the doctor-patient confidentiality risks telehealth poses to your private health data.
Why Does Virtual Doctor-Patient Confidentiality Matter?
Doctor-patient confidentiality is the heart of quality health care without which your relationship with your doctor would be inherently compromised. There are several factors to consider to ensure your privacy isn’t being violated. It’s important that you:
- Recognize that there are risks involved when employing a telehealth format to conduct a doctor’s appointment.
- Be sure that the platform you are using to communicate with your doctor adheres to HIPAA laws. (To verify this is the case, speak directly to a manager of the company and request proof that they are in compliance with HIPAA regulations.)
- Ask your doctor to use another telehealth format if the platform is not HIPAA compliant. Your physician needs to provide options so that you feel confident that doctor-patient confidentiality is a high priority for his or her staff.
- Remember that your doctor needs to request your consent for all matters being discussed during a telehealth call. If your doctor has not provided any form of verbal or written consent, see this as a red flag.
- Take a moment to contemplate the legal, ethical, and social complications that can result when doctor-patient confidentiality is not being honored. The long-term risks of using platforms that are unregulated by HIPAA standards can lead to legal mishaps, social misconduct, or immoral treatment of one or more individuals.
If your doctor is not meeting your requests, consider seeking out a new medical provider that will advocate for your rights.
How Can You Ensure Doctor-Patient Confidentiality?
There are some things you can do to ensure your doctor is taking your health care privacy seriously. First, request legitimate proof that your doctor is using a trusted source of cybersecurity, licensing, and liability to safeguard your data. Don’t simply take his or her word for it – you have the right to expect transparency.
Next, find out how your ePHI is being stored, and ensure it’s being properly safeguarded; protecting your ePHI is not something you want to leave to chance. You have the right to ask that your health data remain blocked to unauthorized users with a case-sensitive username and password.
Finally, ask to receive notifications of any changes in terms of how your data is being stored, as well as what sustainable measures are being taken to ensure that your data is secure. Don’t hesitate to ask questions or follow up every so often to remain informed.
What Steps Can You Take to Protect Your Data?
Technology is changing rapidly, so it’s imperative that you educate yourself on basic security applications for your WiFi and personal devices. Stay up to date on how the platforms that are being used to house your data align with HIPAA laws and superior cybersecurity operations. You can also send personalized letters to your state and local policymakers outlining doctor-patient confidentiality loopholes that need addressing and how new policies can ensure widespread data security.
Today, so many aspects of our lives are beyond our control, but our private health data shouldn’t be one of them. Given the many risks involved with using online technology, you deserve the peace of mind that your electronic health information is being guarded at all times.
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