If you’re not already using telemedicine services for your patients, the statistics tell us you are falling behind. More than one billion virtual patient encounters will occur this year, as the COVID-19 pandemic normalizes social distancing with the telemedicine visit. Video conferencing offers families and friends a way to connect even while staying at home. It’s also a tool to help companies conduct business as usual when workers are remote. But are commercial telemedicine solutions appropriate for healthcare providers? This blog will help clinicians determine the risks associated with using commercial video conferencing solutions to provide telemedicine services to their patients.What are the Risks of Commercial Video Conferencing for Telehealth?
Selecting a commercial video conferencing solution such as Zoom, Skype, or FaceTime is an easy, fast solution for conducting a telemedicine visit. Clinicians have been given more freedom to use these tools, as CMS recently temporarily lowered many of the barriers to telemedicine reimbursement, including HIPAA privacy requirements. The keyword for providers to note is “temporary”—it should not go unnoticed that these commercial tools were never meant for the private exchange of patient data online.
The Office for Civil Rights (OCR), the division of U.S. Health and Human Services (HHS) that oversees data security and patient privacy, waived HIPAA security requirements in March. The agency allowed for “enforcement discretion” of PHI data security rules requirements, due to the pandemic public health emergency. It was a move that made it easier for any practice to leverage telemedicine services quickly without the information security safeguards required by HIPAA.
The problem is that commercial video conferencing services do not typically offer a branded solution that includes scheduling patients, sending prescriptions, EHR integration, or detailed reporting of healthcare data. They are a short-term solution to the problem of social distancing our patients. The long-term problems they present for practices include reconciling patient billing data and tracking reimbursement, patient care continuity for service delivery, and data security. Using a commercial video conferencing tool without the data interoperability between scheduling, patient billing, EHR, and practice management software, will create more work and higher risk for your practice.
The risks of using commercial video conferencing for telehealth extend beyond service line fragmentation. Commercial video conferencing solutions lack accountability for HIPAA data security requirements because these tools were largely never intended for healthcare. They are business solutions being used and adapted to the rigors of healthcare delivery and that is a big problem for the clinician entrusted with private healthcare data. Many commercial carriers fail to address a host of security issues for their products, from privacy notifications for patients, end-to-end encryption, personal settings for the video chat, and even how long the data can be stored.
Today’s commercial video conferencing industry is a largely unregulated field. Tech Target calls it “the wild, Wild West.” These technology providers are not required to share the details of their security and privacy controls, and thus, are not transparent regarding the measures they’ve put in place to thwart hackers and protect personal patient data—or any other data for that matter. Fox Business News says commercial video conferencing solutions have presented new, fertile ground for hackers bent on creating mischief or stealing personal identity information. It’s a huge problem that will likely create security issues down the road for commercial carriers.
For healthcare providers seeking to create telemedicine services, commercial video conferencing solutions simply do not offer the layers of security or the interoperability necessary to run a successful virtual service line.
Benefits of a Telehealth App for Your Medical Practice
Healthcare providers should seek a telehealth app designed for the complexities of the modern medical practice. The benefits of using a telemedicine app over a commercial video conferencing solution include:
- Patient scheduling
A video conferencing solution designed specifically for the intricacies of healthcare allows for more streamlined patient scheduling. Look for a healthcare telemedicine app that makes patient scheduling simple. This is particularly important because the demand for telehealth services has skyrocketed. A telehealth app designed with your patients in mind should make scheduling simple to speed up the process of seeing your clinical team, not make it more complicated.
- Branded solutions
Commercial video conferencing offers generic services not branded to your practice. Most commercial video conferencing solutions do not offer the sort of white label features that truly integrate the telehealth service line as a part of your practice. Commercial services offer generic virtual waiting rooms that do not resemble the physical location or healthcare-centered environment your patients expect.
- Patient privacy
Telehealth apps should offer upfront patient permissions and verifications to ensure HIPAA privacy rules and patient confidentiality. Commercial video conferencing services are not designed to accommodate clinical workflows. Instead, the provider must readjust their workflow to fit within the rigid framework of the commercial service. This workaround creates more, not less, complexities for doctors and patients, decreasing productivity and causing potential frustration for both parties.
A telehealth app usually offers interoperability with your practice EMR, billing, and office management tools. When software platforms do not communicate well, silos occur. The cumulative effect are inefficient workflows that create barriers to practice efficiency. While a commercial video conferencing solution may seem like a cheap quick fix to respond to patient demand, it will always create additional workarounds in a practice that takes up more staff and provider time.
- Provider tools
How do generic video conferencing services handle charting, writing and sending prescriptions, patient discharge notes, and follow-up appointments? How does a commercial video conferencing solution allow you to even take patient payments? Fragmenting all of these steps means that you are more likely to make mistakes. While generic video conferencing solutions have a business use case, most are not designed to handle the intricacies of the healthcare industry.
With commercial video conferencing, cyber criminals have an opportunity in the healthcare space. Patient data is highly valuable, and there are hundreds of instances where social security numbers, addresses, credit card information, and even entire identities are stolen and resold on the dark web. A telehealth app designed specifically for HIPAA compliance encrypts patient communications from end-to-end, ensuring peace of mind for your practice and the customers you serve.
SpringHealth Live offers our customers a full-service plug and play telemedicine app designed by and for doctors and their clinical staff. We are the alternative to a commercial service, instead offering healthcare-specific tools to serve your patients efficiently and safely. Contact us for a demo to find out the benefits of telehealth today.