When many people think of telehealth, they tend to focus on remote medical care. Telehealth is actually a much broader field that includes these health services, but also stretches to healthcare prevention, advice, education, reminders, monitoring, and more.
Since telehealth encompasses so much, it’s important to examine how HIPAA regulations can be applied to each of these aspects.
Remote Health Care
Remote health care, also known as telemedicine, involves providing medical services through video calls and other technologies. It can help to provide care in rural communities and eliminate travel times for healthcare practitioners, which increases efficiency.
HIPAA regulations apply to all telemedicine because its very nature involves recording and processing electronic protected health information (ePHI). Because of this, every communication channel that is used for telemedicine needs to be HIPAA-compliant, whether it is for video calls, voice calls, email or other means.
These channels need to be encrypted to prevent attackers from intercepting ePHI, and access control needs to be in place so that only authorized persons can access the data. There are a number of other safeguards that should also be used, but these depend on the communication channel.
In-home monitoring has become more common in recent years, because it allows healthcare practitioners to keep an eye on patients while they are in the comfort of their own homes.
This can have several benefits, such as allowing patients to be released from hospital early, limiting the number of times that patients need to visit medical professionals for checkups, or reducing how frequently healthcare practitioners need to make visits to a patient’s home.
Despite these advantages, there are also a number of privacy issues. Remote monitoring can involve a range of different devices in the patient’s home, such as connected scales, blood pressure monitors, glucose monitors and heart rate monitors.
This data needs to be transmitted back to the healthcare professionals, which means that the very nature of the process creates and transmits ePHI. To protect this data, safeguards need to be in place at each step. These measures can include access control, encryption and more.
Healthcare Prevention, Advice & Education
Whether or not these services are regulated by HIPAA will depend on their content and focus. If protective measures are required, then the appropriate safeguards will vary according to how the message is delivered.
The first step is to determine whether any potential healthcare prevention, advice or education contains ePHI. This will depend on the circumstances. If a doctor’s secretary emails all of its patients about getting a flu shot ahead of winter, this is not regarded as ePHI, because it does not specify any patient’s health condition, treatment or payment details (unless being on this mailing list identifies you as a patient of this doctor and that implies something about your medical history….).
Things become murkier if the same secretary sends out an email about depression treatments to those patients who suffer from the illness. Since this is targeted to a specific group of people who have the condition, it could be seen as revealing details about their health.
It’s a bit of a gray area, so if your organization finds itself in this position, it’s best to stay on the safe side and protect the information as if it were ePHI. If the prevention, advice or education does include ePHI, then protective measures such as encryption need to be in place.
If your organization sends reminders out to its patients, it needs to be wary of whether these contain ePHI. They can be helpful for reminding patients about upcoming appointments, to take their medication, or to refill prescriptions, but your organization needs to be careful about their content and how they are sent.
If any of your organization’s reminders contain ePHI (and such reminders almost always do), then it needs to make sure that they are only sent over secure, HIPAA-compliant channels.
Delivering Telehealth Securely & within HIPAA Regulations
Telehealth can be beneficial for both healthcare providers and patients. If your organization offers these services, it’s important to take security and HIPAA regulations into account, otherwise, it could face a serious data breach or HIPAA penalties.
Keep your business and your patients safe by using a HIPAA-compliant provider like LuxSci. It has almost 20 years of experience and offers a range of telehealth services, such as video calls, voice calls, secure chat and more.