The Value of Telehealth and the Importance of Following HIPAA Guidelines
Social distancing and the increased demand on our healthcare system due to the impact of the coronavirus have made virtual telehealth provider visits very popular. As a matter of fact, I just enjoyed my first ever virtual doctor’s appointment.
The staff called me two days prior to the virtual visit and talked me through installing the app on my phone. They provided step-by-step instructions on how to log in through the patient portal. I installed the app – no problem – and sat back to wait for my new visit experience.
15 minutes before my appointment, the practice manager from the provider’s office called me to ask if I had any questions and wish me well. The appointment went off without a hitch. It was definitely a change from the traditional, in-person visits I was used to, but seeing my doctor’s face during these anxious times helped put me at ease and feel at least a little sense of normalcy.
While my first impression of the telehealth experience was a smooth one, and the value of telehealth is clearly there, providers also need to consider the implications of these changes. HIPAA guideline considerations should be front and center when implementing telehealth in your practice.
SMS, Skype, FaceTime and Email are NOT mediums with which to communicate with your patients. All these applications use third parties to store the data, causing serious privacy concerns. Elect to use a secure messaging solution to comply with the HIPAA guidelines on telemedicine.
Here is a list of software providers that note that they do provide HIPAA-compliant video communication products, and which will enter into a BAA. Before you choose any platform, however, be sure to do your due diligence and ensure 100% that the claims are true and that the platform you choose does indeed comply with HIPAA guidelines:
- Skype for Business / Microsoft Teams
- Zoom for Healthcare
- Google G Suite Hangouts Meet
- Cisco Webex Meetings / Webex Teams
- Amazon Chime
- Spruce Health Care Messenger
My takeaway – virtual visits work! The staff prepared me well. I appreciated that they called twice. This left less for my PCP to do technically. I was able to have my prescriptions refilled and see my physician – virtually. Take advantage of the resources your patient portal provides you AND your patients.
From a provider perspective, do the groundwork and make sure you adhere to HIPAA guidelines. Ensure that you aren’t crossing any lines and that you are fully protecting your patients’ data and privacy.