Telehealth: Risks and rewards for your healthcare business – and what comes next
The pandemic has changed a lot of things – some of them for the better. One area that has seen significant change is healthcare – particularly, the emergence of telehealth as a method of delivering health and wellbeing services to clients.
Telehealth connects patients to practitioners virtually – typically over Zoom or another video conferencing service. It can be used in nearly any situation where an in-person visit isn’t required.
Some healthcare providers, including mental health practitioners, speech therapists, personal trainers and more, may be able to provide all or almost all services virtually. Other providers, such as doctors, nurse practitioners and physical therapists may be able to provide diagnostic and follow up services virtually, reducing the number of in-person visits.
Benefits of telehealth
According to the American Medical Association, telehealth accounted for less than 1% of health care volume prior to the pandemic. Within the first few months of the pandemic, more than half of physicians used telehealth for the first time. Research shows that 85% of physicians said that telehealth increased the timeliness of care, and 75% said it allowed them to provide quality care, per the AMA.
Telehealth eliminates the geographical barriers to care. If you have a rare condition, or specific requirements for a therapist, for example, you used to have to travel to find the best care. Telehealth allows patients to virtually receive care from the best practitioner for their particular needs, no matter where they are located. This improves equity in health care as well, as patients who may not have the means to travel for care can get it virtually.
The provision of virtual healthcare services has many benefits. It’s convenient for patients, who no longer have to travel to a doctor or therapist’s office, and then wait in a waiting room, to see a practitioner for a 15-minute follow up visit.
Risks of telehealth
As beneficial as telehealth is, it, like most innovations, is not without its risks. One of the most important risks is the security of medical information by telehealth providers. Medical offices take great care to secure their patients’ physical and electronic health records, but the advent of telehealth provides some new challenges. Health information is very valuable to hackers on the dark web, so it’s important for telehealth providers to protect themselves. A healthcare data record can be worth as much as $250 to a hacker, compared to $5.40 for a payment card, according to Trustwave.
Steps telehealth providers should take
A three-step approach to cyber security can help keep telehealth providers and their data safe.
- Prevent an attack from occurring in the first place. This is the best-case scenario and should be a primary focus for every telehealth provider. Training everyone, from practitioners to employees, on best practices related to cyber security is critical. A well-trained staff can act as a ‘human firewall’ to keep your practice safe. Backing up your data regularly, at another location or in the cloud, will reduce your risk of having to pay a ransomware demand.
- Detect an attack as soon as it occurs. An immediate response, implemented by crisis management experts, can reduce the amount of exposure you have.
- Mitigate the damage. Cyber security insurance can help with this, and a Hiscox policy includes training tools for prevention and breach response services too. A stand-alone policy is ideal, as endorsements or add-ons don’t always provide the full breadth of protection a telehealth operation requires.
Telehealth is here to stay – and to expand
While the advances in telehealth were prompted by the pandemic, and the need for patients to receive medical attention without having to be face-to-face with a practitioner, they are certain to become permanent in most practices. Look for more digitally enabled health care solutions as the industry moves to more of a hybrid model of care, with most visits occurring online whenever possible.