The use of telehealth has grown by leaps and bounds since the arrival of COVID-19. The pandemic made many in the medical profession realize that not everyone has the ability to leave their home to get quality care. The good news is that the tech has evolved greatly during this time, and now you can do just about everything from discussing symptoms to getting a prescription filled over the computer.
However, as with anything digital, there is a risk of cybercrime. Hackers can breach telehealth platforms and listen in on your conversations or steal the information that you input during the consultation. As a patient, it is your right to be protected, so we have some advice about your rights and how to be smart when accessing telehealth platforms.
Many people don’t worry about cybersecurity because they don’t believe that they are really at risk, but the truth is that any piece of information that you provide during a telehealth call can be used by hackers for malicious means. When you join a session, you are often asked to enter in your personal data, including email, phone number, medical history, address, and often your credit card number, to pay for the consultation.
Even information that can seem harmless, like birth dates and addresses, hold high monetary value and can be used to commit future cyber breaches or be sold on the black market to other criminals. The impact of a breached medical history can be huge. Hackers can get prescriptions in your name, commit financial fraud, and even threaten your reputation through their access to personal and sensitive information.
While you should be careful with your data, it also falls on the medical community to do what they can to keep you protected. In the US, for instance, doctors must follow the rules created by the HIPAA (Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act) Security Rule, which states that a medical organization must take all necessary precautions to protect patient data through encryption, security updates, and proper backups.
If you want to be sure that your doctor really has your back, then reach out directly and ask about their privacy policies and inquire about the protections they have in place. Keep in mind that every organization and health app will have its own cyber security processes, and they may evolve with the times. An example is the recent overturning of Roe Vs. Wade and the privacy implications that may come along with it. If you plan to switch to a birth control app, you should first reach out and ask about their privacy protections to ensure that your data will remain confidential.
While hackers can breach your computer and steal the information that you enter during your telehealth consultation, they can also listen to what you say during the face-to-face interaction with your doctor. It has been a problem as of late, both inside and outside of the medical industry. Hackers find their way onto communication apps like Zoom and Skype, and they are able to either review the on-screen chat or plug in and record your consultation. They can then use any information they hear for malicious purposes.
To avoid this issue, it is important to pay attention during your telehealth visit. Look at the attendees and ensure that it is only you, the doctor, and any other authorized personnel. If you see anyone else in the meeting, then bring up your concern to the doctor. It is also a good idea to do some research ahead of time. Ask the doctor if the telehealth program uses open or closed-source software. Both come with unique cybersecurity pros and cons but knowing which one your medical provider relies on can help you to make more informed decisions regarding your telehealth security.
Remember that it is not just the criminals who have hacked your computer that can drop in on your telehealth conversations. You also need to be cautious around potential eavesdroppers in the real world. It is important that you hold your telehealth appointments in a private space, ideally at home, where strangers can’t listen, because they can also use the information they hear against you.
Whenever you do online, you need to ensure that you are using secure connections and avoiding potential threats.
A common scam that hackers often use is the phishing email, where a hacker may pose as a doctor and send you a message about your appointment. They will give you a link and tell you to click it to get to your telehealth visit, but really, you are opening a door for the hacker to get into your system and steal your data. Before clicking any link or opening any attachment, be sure to check that it is legitimate. If you are unsure, call your health provider directly.
It is also important to take a moment to check out the website or patient portal that you are using for your telehealth visit. Check the address bar. All protected websites will have an “S” after the “HTTP,” which literally stands for secure. If you don’t see it, then be cautious. If you start a telehealth appointment, but the “doctor” claims to not have the ability to use video, then that should also be a red flag that you may not be speaking to who you thought you should.
Whenever you use a telehealth service, it is also important to create a strong password that cannot be easily guessed by a potential hacker. Good passwords will have a combination of letters, numbers, and special characters. Avoid using family members or pet names because criminals can find those clues on your social media. If you ever get a phishing email, then consider changing your password just in case you have been breached.
In the end, telehealth is a wonderful invention that allows patients to benefit from around-the-clock care from anywhere, but it should be used with caution. Consider the tips and advice discussed here, and you can see your doctor with confidence.
Luke Smith is a writer and researcher turned blogger. He enjoys writing on a variety of topics but technology and digital marketing topics are his favorite. When he isn't writing you can find him traveling, hiking, or getting into the latest tech.