Telemedicine: privacy and security challenges

In some establishments, between 40% and 50% of “non-urgent” interventions were also deprogrammed because of the influx of patients linked to the epidemic. Through these adaptations, the objective has been to reduce the exposure of professionals and their patients to the virus.

Of course, during a pandemic, people need access to health care more than ever. This is why more and more health professionals and patients have turned to telemedicine. According to a survey carried out by the Odoxa institute for the Agence du Numérique en Santé (ANS), its use has tripled among French patients, and the latter are among the most favorable in Europe about it. .

The success of Doctolib, with its application for physicians and their patients, also illustrates this phenomenon. The French start-up is in fact valued today at more than one billion euros and has established itself as a key player in the field of digital health in Europe.

Technologies that give physicians the ability to diagnose and treat patients without physical contact are a real boon these days. In all likelihood, many of the protocols put in place today will far outlast the pandemic. However, for these changes to materialize, it is essential that healthcare providers implement telemedicine without sacrificing patient privacy and safety.

The coronavirus has revolutionized telemedicine

For decades, telemedicine failed to gain traction, including in France, mainly due to privacy and data security concerns. But the coronavirus has ignored those concerns and opened the doors to a long overdue reconsideration of the benefits of remote health care.

Of course, the provision of remote care has drawbacks, because it is in particular impossible to palpate or auscultate a patient. But modern technology allows relatively complete examinations to be carried out, offering doctors the possibility, for example, of zooming in on certain parts of a patient’s body, or even of using robots equipped with a stethoscope, to listen to the sounds of the patient. remote heart and lungs. Professionals have acquired a certain skill and confidence in carrying out online consultations and it is to be expected that this phenomenon will continue once the pandemic has passed.

The privacy and security challenges of telemedicine

So why has medicine taken so long to join the digital revolution? One of the main concerns is that in a world plagued by cyber attacks and data breaches, the risk of compromising data or patient care is too great. This concern is justified, because the medical field is incredibly vulnerable, as evidenced by the cyber attacks that have affected hospitals and pharmaceutical laboratories in France in recent months.

One of the major risks in virtual healthcare is identity and access management. How can doctors be sure that the person who appears on the screen is the one whose chart they are reading? And how can patients be sure that no unauthorized person is accessing their most personal information?

Today, multi-factor authentication is one of the best ways to confirm the identity of the patient by sending a one-time code or using biometrics such as a fingerprint. This requires a flexible identity management system capable of managing a patient’s identity data across multiple systems. In this context, controlling cyber risks, which increase in correlation with the number of technologies, tools, software and applications used, is also essential.

In addition to the possible vulnerabilities in software, patients and physicians need to know some basic best practices to use these programs safely. For example, it is imperative to create a unique password to access a digital patient portal or an email program, so that the account cannot be compromised by a credential stuffing attack. The lack of this awareness and a security-focused software design really exposes user privacy to cyber threats.

Strengthen telemedicine capacities so that it survives the coronavirus

Healthcare providers and software developers need to realize that once the coronavirus pandemic is over, the rules for telemedicine are likely to evolve, but they will always revert to basics of data security. The General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR) provides a precise framework for the collection and protection of this health data.

Also, professionals must protect patient data against unauthorized or illicit access; and against loss, destruction, or accidental damage, which implies the implementation of appropriate security measures.

In order for telemedicine to thrive in the aftermath of the pandemic, the medical industry must define universal standards for the use of virtual tools. This will partly go through training, which has already been underway at a forced pace since the start of the health crisis. Indeed, clinicians learn to use common sense methods to protect privacy.

Lawmakers around the world can also contribute to the advent of telemedicine by simplifying the panoply of different regulations that govern it and which are a major barrier to innovation as well as the adoption of telehealth, as it is difficult adapt solutions and workflows from one jurisdiction to another.

No turning back for telemedicine

There is a great temptation to say that the coronavirus has imposed telemedicine as a necessity, but the truth is, even before the pandemic, the world was in desperate need of new ways of accessing health care. And now that professionals and patients alike have tested a new approach, where possible, few will want to go back.

In a digitized world, it just doesn’t make sense to make health an analog asset, especially when you think about the number of people who, before Covid-19, did not want to seek treatment because of ‘they had no transport to get to the doctor or could not take time off work to wait in a waiting room. The world needs telemedicine solutions now, but they also need to be stable, secure and sustainable.

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