As the technology industry continues to experience continuous, rapid change and advancements, other industries are faced with the challenge of incorporating these new technologies, creating rules and regulations in order to ensure the safety and privacy of consumers and businesses. In 2020, technology will continue to lead to new developments in the healthcare industry, but will also leave room for new threats. In particular, telehealth will grow in popularity for both doctors and their patients, allowing for streamlined communication, more convenient consultations, an increase in treatment accuracy and the ability for patients to receive healthcare anywhere in the world.
As the health industry normalizes digitizing health data and providing telehealth services, we must also prepare for what lies in the year ahead for healthcare and data privacy – specifically as it relates to a rise in cyber threats, increase in regulations and the adoption of blockchain.
Protecting Privacy in the Wake of Cyber Threats
Today, telehealth is segmented, essentially meaning that “walls” exist in the network that protect data and act as a defense against hackers and cyber criminals. However, in the coming year, many networks will be streamlined and optimized into an end-to-end solution, likely under the umbrella of one vendor and cutting out third party applications. This has the potential to minimize costs, resources and time. However, accelerating digital health convergence in this way will open the door for network security vulnerabilities. Ultimately, this will provide hackers new avenues to access private patient data and find ways around pre-existing cyber defense mechanisms.
This increase in cyber threats due to the implementation of end-to-end solutions is something that the healthcare industry cannot be prepared for without proper regulation and a dedication to provider compliance.
Increasing and Reforming Regulations
As telehealth becomes a normalcy in patient-provider communication in 2020, we will see a rapidly evolving regulatory environment in order to combat the increase in cybersecurity threats and data breaches. This will lead to a need for additional regulatory compliance codes and demand for more security compliance assessments for healthcare providers and organizations engaging with personal health data.
As technology continues to improve, using virtual connections in place of face-to-face meetings has surged in popularity. The healthcare industry is no different – the telehealth industry is predicted to be worth more than $130 billion by 2025. While telehealth offers many benefits to patients, particularly those who are unable to leave their homes, the technology raises several serious security concerns.
These problems primarily stem from the lack of security controls when it comes to the collection and sharing of data. During a conversation between a patient and doctor, for example, sensitive, personal patient data is often shared. When the connection between patient and doctor is virtual, it is possible that an unsecured connection could be interrupted, and patient data leaked. Home telehealth devices and sensors may also collect data that a patient would prefer to keep private, including times that the home is unoccupied. If devices are storing and transmitting this data, it is possible that it could be accessed by third parties.
These concerns have left a lingering question: how can patients still reap the benefits of telehealth while ensuring their connections and data remain secure? The answer may lie in another technology that healthcare providers have only started to adopt – blockchain.
Enabling Secure Data
Blockchain at its most basic level simply enables secure, immutable and anonymous transactions, allowing cross-network communications to take place through mutually agreed upon interactions between parties. For healthcare providers, this opens up an efficient means of transferring data and communicating between different organizations that handle patient data. Medical records can also be stored using blockchain, allowing providers to create a more complete patient history by keeping larger amounts of data and information securely encrypted in fragmented systems.
The ability to securely share data and control who has access to it will surely help to increase consumer confidence when it comes to telehealth. Blockchain requires that data is approved by both the patient and doctor before it is entered into a computer. The data must also be verified against a previous ledger, so no single party ever has total control. This ensures multiple checks are in place and reduces the chance that an unauthorized party could access sensitive patient data, which is one of the main concerns when it comes to using telehealth.
Regulating Sensitive Communications
While it offers many solutions, federal organizations have not officially decided how regulations would apply to blockchain, including the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act (HIPAA). HIPAA outlines rules for ensuring the privacy and security of patient data, as well as the secure transfer of data, but it does not apply to patients; ensuring blockchain users remain compliant will be the responsibility of healthcare providers.
HIPPA guidelines for telehealth require that healthcare organizations communicate electronically protected health information (ePHI) through regulated channels to ensure security. This means that tools like Skype or unencrypted email cannot be used to communicate ePHI, limiting what could be used for cost-effective telehealth.