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Politicians, Privacy, & TeleHealth – Here’s What You Should Know

Thanks to the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic, telehealth has become more of a popular and necessary resource for people worldwide.

Telehealth has plenty of benefits, after all. For example, you can have sessions from the privacy of your own home. You can work with doctors anywhere in the country. Plus, you can schedule appointments at a time that works best for you.

But, when it comes to privacy and telehealth, some people have had concerns about their private information or the possibility of data breaches.

Some researchers believe that there are significant security risks in telehealth systems. These risks can impact a patient’s level of trust and willingness to continue using telehealth as a platform.

So, what are the issues, and what is being done to boost security?

Not Making Telehealth Privacy Policies Clear

Privacy and telehealth should be a relatively easy connection. Because it’s still a somewhat new platform that physicians and patients are using, there are still some “kinks” to work out.

One of the most significant issues is that healthcare providers aren’t giving their patients a privacy policy to look over. If there are no strict regulations in place for a particular medical facility or from a physician, there is no guarantee to the patient that their privacy will be protected. Even if a provider does do everything “right” to keep a patient’s information secure, the patient needs to know what steps will be taken to make that happen.

A specific suggestion to take the privacy policies out of the hands of healthcare providers would be to let a federal agency (The Federal Trade Commission) create a set of privacy and security standards for all healthcare providers across the country and enforce them when it comes to telehealth.

What Are the Risks of TeleHealth?

Data breaches happen all too frequently in the business and tech world. Telehealth’s popularity is expanding. It’s likely hackers will waste no time in trying to steal valuable information from patients, too. Some of the most serious risks include:

  • A lack of control over collecting and sharing data
  • Sessions used with apps can share sensitive data
  • Home computer systems/networks may not be secure
  • Transfer of information increases the risk of a data breach

What Can the Healthcare Sector Do About the Rise in TeleHealth?

The bottom line? When it comes to privacy and telehealth, there should be more government regulations to streamline the process.

In a standard patient/physician setting, HIPAA covers most of a patient’s right to a private appointment. But, HIPAA only applies to covered entities. That means it only applies to the physicians, not to patients. So, if you’re talking to a physician on the phone or through a video chat, HIPAA laws do not apply to you, and information you share through your app/portal may not be safe.

The Food and Drug Administration currently regulates medical devices. However, it doesn’t have any regulation on apps or consumer-facing mobile devices for telehealth services. So, what’s the solution? As stated above, one federal organization needs to put telehealth under its existing umbrella to take control of these privacy issues.

The Growing Need for Telehealth

Thanks to COVID-19, it’s clear that telehealth is here to stay as an option for many people. More people will likely continue to use it. It can help with everything from physical ailments to counseling for loss or anxiety.

The system is not yet perfect when talking about privacy and telehealth. But, as the need for it continues to grow, we can likely expect at least one government sector to step up and create an overview of how telehealth privacy policies should look.

How To Use TeleHealth Right Now

In the meantime, look for options that offer some type of encryption (no less than 128bit and preferably more) and stay away from options that are designed as social vehicles – look for ones intentioned for business and even better, if built and maintained specifically for medical/health purposes.

Facetime, Skype and such are great for talking with grandparents or friends. Zoom, Meetings and such are good options for business meetings, teaching classes and industry networking. These have strong options for increasing privacy – so if your counselor or doctor is using them, make sure to ask if they have set those parameters in place. Doximity and others are designed specifically for medical – and there are a lot medical system portals that are private to only the professionals in the system using them, too.

You don’t have to be a webhead or a techie. You just have to ask your telehealth provider. My rule of thumb, if they don’t know how they are protecting your privacy, it begs the question of how strongly they really are.

If you want to know more about what telehealth is, how it works, or how you can ensure that your information and personal data are safe, please contact me for more details. Or visit my page about counseling for loss to learn about how I can help you navigate troubling times.

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Top 5 Reasons Virtual Counseling Is Highly Effective

Even before the COVID-19 pandemic hit, virtual counseling or “telehealth” was becoming increasingly popular. Now that this pandemic has forced most of the world to practice social distancing and stay inside, however, it’s become an even more vital resource than ever.

Virtual counseling for loss, especially during this pandemic, can be just as effective as its in-person counterpart.

If you’re not sure if virtual counseling is right for you, let’s go over a few reasons why it’s highly effective, and how it can help you if you need support.

1. It Offers More Access to Counseling

Some people, especially those who live in rural areas, may have never had the opportunity to go to a counselor before. Virtual counseling allows you to talk with someone no matter where you are in the world. Plus, you’ll do so without leaving the comfort of your home. If you’ve never been able to meet with a counselor because of where you live, virtual counseling gives you the chance to do so.

It also makes counseling accessible to people who might have mobility issues, chronic pain, or other health conditions that keep them from getting out of the house too often. You only need a quiet space within your home to obtain the benefits of online counseling.

2. It Can Create Openness

When you’re in a virtual counseling session, you can do it from the comfort of your home. In an intimate space, it’s easier to open up and be more vulnerable. You may even share more with a counselor virtually than you would during an in-office session.

3. It’s Convenient

It can sometimes be challenging to find a time that works for both you and your counselor. So, you may not get to talk to them as often as you’d like. Plus, the hassle of merely driving to the counselor’s office can dissuade some individuals from keeping the appointment. Especially great for medical personnel and others whose scheduling might make it difficult to access a typical appointment time.

Virtual counseling is convenient and can be done after regular “working hours,” so you can find a time that works for your schedule without having to wait for weeks in between.

4. It’s Affordable

In-person counseling can be expensive. For some people, the cost is an issue that may have kept them away from working with a counselor in the past. However, it has been shown that virtual counseling is more affordable for both the client and the therapist.

Many states are now requiring insurance providers to cover online therapy sessions, especially in the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic. Have you been considering virtual counseling, but you’re not sure if you can afford it?  Talk to your insurance company to see if it’s covered.

There are fewer overhead costs to worry about when it comes to virtual therapy from a therapist’s standpoint. So, they can pass those savings onto their clients. Don’t be afraid to ask if there is a different rate for virtual services.

5. It Offers Similar Benefits as In-person Counseling

One of the biggest questions people tend to have about virtual counseling is whether you’ll get the same experience as you would in person. The answer is, for most people, a resounding yes.

Because most virtual therapy sessions are via video chat, you can still see your counselor’s face and expressions, and they can see yours.

If you have a reliable internet connection, a private area of your home, and a willingness to clear time in your schedule, virtual counseling can be incredibly helpful.

If virtual counseling interests you, you might still have questions or wonder if it’s right for you. Feel free to contact me for more information or visit my page about counseling for loss. Together, we can get through these uncertain times and far beyond. And, you can do it from the comfort of your home.