HIPAA and telemedicine: How to ensure privacy in virtual healthcare

November 10th, 2023
HIPAA and telemedicine: How to ensure privacy in virtual healthcare

Healthcare delivery has undergone a seismic shift with the advent of telemedicine, bringing an unprecedented level of convenience to patients and healthcare workers alike. However, as we embrace the benefits of telemedicine, we must also address the pressing need to ensure the same level of privacy and security in the digital realm as in traditional healthcare settings.

This article delves into the intersection of HIPAA and telemedicine, examining the rules set by the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act (HIPAA).

How are HIPAA and telemedicine connected to each other?

HIPAA is a federal law that safeguards the privacy and security of protected health information (PHI), or any personally identifiable information related to an individual's health status, healthcare history, or the provision of healthcare services. HIPAA regulations apply to covered entities, such as healthcare providers, health plans, healthcare clearinghouses, and other similar institutions.

Related reading: HIPAA compliance basics: Confidentiality, integrity, and availability

Telemedicine, on the other hand, is the remote provision of healthcare services using telecommunications technology. This can take various forms, including video conferencing, audio conferencing, and remote monitoring. Telemedicine serves a broad range of purposes, from offering consultations and diagnoses to providing treatments and medical guidance.

As such, medical practitioners who use telemedicine are considered covered entities under HIPAA, which means that they must comply with the HIPAA Privacy, Security, and Breach Notification Rules.

The three major components of the HIPAA rules and regulations
 HIPAA Privacy Rule – gives patients the right to control how their PHI is used and disclosed
 HIPAA Security Rule – requires covered entities to implement safeguards to protect PHI from unauthorized access, use, disclosure, modification, or destruction
 HIPAA Breach Notification Rule – requires covered entities to notify patients if there is a breach of their PHI

In addition to the HIPAA Rules, telemedicine providers may also be subject to state and federal laws on telemedicine privacy. These laws vary by state, but they typically require telemedicine providers to obtain patient consent before using or disclosing PHI and to take steps to protect the security of PHI.

For instance, the state of New York follows both state and federal laws on telehealth privacy. The New York State Department of Health has established regulations that require telehealth providers to comply with HIPAA. Additionally, New York State has enacted telehealth parity laws, which are laws meant to ensure that insurers give telehealth and telemedicine providers the same treatment as traditional healthcare providers. It’s worth noting that New York does not have any laws or regulations particular to the standard of care for telehealth providers.

How to ensure telemedicine privacy and boost security

Here are some measures healthcare providers can take to ensure privacy in virtual healthcare settings:

Choose a HIPAA-compliant telemedicine platform

The first step in ensuring privacy in telemedicine and HIPAA compliance is to choose a HIPAA-compliant telemedicine platform that has been certified by a reputable third-party auditor to meet the HIPAA Rules.

When choosing a HIPAA-compliant telemedicine platform, it’s vital to consider the following factors:

  • The platform's security features: Does the platform use encryption to protect patient data? Does it have strong authentication and authorization controls?
  • The platform's privacy policies: Does the platform have clear and comprehensive privacy policies? Does it give patients control over how their PHI is used and disclosed?
  • The platform's reputation: What do other healthcare providers and patients say about the platform? Does it have a good track record of protecting patient privacy and security?

Implement security measures to protect ePHI

In addition to choosing a HIPAA-compliant telemedicine platform, healthcare providers must also implement security measures to protect electronic protected health information (ePHI). This includes:

  • Using strong passwords and enabling multifactor authentication on all devices used to access ePHI
  • Encrypting all ePHI, both at rest and in transit
  • Implementing firewalls and other intrusion detection and prevention systems
  • Regularly training staff on HIPAA privacy and security procedures

Educate patients about their privacy rights and responsibilities

Patients also have a role to play in protecting their privacy in virtual healthcare. Healthcare providers should educate patients on their privacy rights and responsibilities, including:

  • The right to access and review their PHI
  • The right to request that their PHI be corrected or amended
  • The right to request that their PHI not be used or disclosed for certain purposes
  • The responsibility to keep their passwords and other personal information secure

If you need guidance on maintaining seamless operations for your healthcare organization in New York while meeting HIPAA requirements for telemedicine, consult Healthy IT’s healthcare IT solutions and experts. Schedule a call today.