Telehealth is booming in response to the COVID-19 pandemic, and as more patients use this alternative, an increasing number of hackers are trying to exploit the crisis to commit malicious acts, said Greg Nichols of ZDNet, a business technology news website. CEO of IoT security firm Sternum Natali Tshuva stated that more hackers are likely to attack monitoring and medical devices. For users, this could be dangerous and lethal.
Patient and Clinician Experiences With Telehealth for Patient Follow-Up Care (2019)
Karen Donelan, ScD, EdM, and colleagues of Health Recovery Solutions, a remote patient monitoring system to improve patient outcomes and reduce overall costs, conducted cross-sectional surveys among patients and clinicians participating in telehealth virtual video visits (VVVs) in an academic health system.
When asked if the patients saw their clinician within 15 minutes of their appointment time, 88.2% said “Yes, definitely agree,” 6.3% said “Yes, somewhat agree,” and 3.5% said “No.” 92.9% of patients said “Yes, definitely agree” that their clinician explained things in an easy to understand manner. Only 3.9% and 0.8% answered “Yes, somewhat agree” and “No,” respectively. 92.5% answered “Yes, definitely agree” with the statement “My clinician listened carefully to me” compared to those who said “Yes, somewhat agree” (4.7%) and “No” (0.8%). When asked if the patients would recommend a virtual visit to your family and friends, 82.3% said “Yes, definitely agree,” 13.4% said “Yes, somewhat agree,” and 0.8% answered “No.”
70.8% of patients who answered “definitely” and 17.8% of those who said “somewhat” noted that their issues could also have been addressed in an office visit and telephone calls (definitely, 23.2%; somewhat, 36.7% ). Meanwhile, secure email (definitely 7.2%; somewhat 23.5%) and text messaging (definitely, 3.6%; somewhat, 12.7%) were regarded as less often substitutes. 62.6% of patients and 59% of clinicians said there was “no difference” between virtual and office visits on “the overall quality of the visit.” 32.7% of patients and 45.9% of clinicians said “office visit” is better but more than half (59.1% of patients and 50.8% of clinicians) said there was “no difference.”
Patient Satisfaction With Virtual Care During the COVID-19 Crisis
Kyruus, a provider of leading enterprise solutions for health systems, surveyed 1,000 patients about their virtual care experiences during the pandemic, cited Business Wire, an American company. The survey revealed that 72% had their first virtual care visit ever during the crisis, with more than 75% reporting they were very or completely satisfied with their virtual care experiences.
50% of respondents said they would be willing to switch providers to have regular virtual visits. Patients also would prefer to improve meeting patient demand for online scheduling (54%) and enhancing post-visit communication. According to the participants, they sought virtual care because of wellness check-ins (41%) and care for chronic conditions (30%). However, only 14% had virtual visits for COVID-19-related symptoms.
The respondents were also very or extremely likely to leverage virtual care for a variety of appointments in the future such as wellness check-ins (60%), surgery/procedure-related visits (58%), and visits for COVID-19-related symptoms (58%). Although only 30% of respondents had booked their virtual visits online, 54% would like this booking method in the future. Between generations, Gen X (72%) and Millennials (54%) would prefer an online booking method compared to 38% of Baby Boomers.
Challenges Associated With the Adoption of Telehealth
Hospitals and health providers across the globe are rapidly utilizing digital health technology to treat COVID-19 patients as best as possible to curb the virus’ spread. However, telehealth also brings forth a couple of challenges such as user inaccessibility (ex: not having a stable internet connection) and insurance coverage.
For Tshuva, security is the biggest concern. Ransomware attacks that had taken place in recent years prompted hospitals to bolster their networks’ security. Unfortunately, remote-care devices, individual devices, and at-home patient monitors remain vulnerable to cyberattacks as they have no embedded security. Hence, cyberattacks could prove to be deadly to patients relying on these devices to get better. Despite the pandemic, malicious actors continue to orchestrate cyberattacks to wreak havoc. One known example is when hackers tried to infiltrate the US Health and Human Services Department and sent fake text messages, claiming that there was a national quarantine.
Other attacks involved demanding ransom from many medical institutions that are working on addressing the crisis and targeting critical healthcare systems around the world. Malicious actors who managed to access medical devices could steal personal health information (PHI) from users, demand ransom from device manufacturers, or use the devices to gain access to larger networks.
Making Telehealth More Secure for Everyone
Clinicians and staff about the new processes and workflows of telehealth are important, said Mike Miliard of Healthcare IT News, the industry’s authoritative source. Geoffrey Lottenberg, a partner with Berger Singerman, recommended considering "actual logistics of scheduling telehealth and running into issues where you're trying to use the same password and login when you're seeing patients in succession.”
For Singerman, the deployment of effective and secure virtual care entails “a lot of attention on the front end” and “a lot of maintenance throughout the process of actually using it.” This is to ensure that you can control who can get in and out of the session at any given time.
Healthcare providers may also invest in cybersecurity insurance and standard insurance package to cover the potential negative impacts of a data breach, stated Zuzanna Walter of WorldHealth.net, the American Academy of Anti-Aging Medicine. These insurance packages may include forensics costs, notification and call center costs, public relations and legal fees, and credit monitoring fees. An effective cybersecurity insurance can provide protective software, employing training, and IT security support to prevent data breaches.
For patients, they should also be educated about security best practices and the role they play when safeguarding their health data while using their home network. Lottenberg commented, "You have to have your patients accepting those policies and understanding what the risks are: 'We're launching this new way of telehealth. Here's how it works. Here are the do's and don'ts, and here's some frequently asked questions.”
Telehealth is useful for consultations during the pandemic; however, it also poses security challenges among health providers and patients. For example, malicious actors can access devices and steal personal information, which can be lethal to patients Therefore, health professionals and patients should be educated about the dos and donts of telehealth, as well as steps to ensure device security.