What a 9,000% Increase in Telehealth Use Tells Us about HIPAA

by Chris Bowen
Chief Privacy & Security Officer and Founder

Recently, MedCity News published this article about the Senate Committee on Health, Education, Labor, and Pension’s hearing Monday, June 15. It was an important hearing for those of us in healthcare as the committee discussed which COVID-19-induced changes to telehealth coverage and policy should remain in the wake of the pandemic.

I wrote about some of these changes in a previous blog. However, there have been dozens of significant federal policy changes since the start of the pandemic. In short, potential HIPAA penalties were temporarily waived for providers wanting to conduct visits via technologies that met the patient where they were – at home – including videoconferencing, tablets and smart phones.

The Committee chairman presented two policy changes from the last few trying months for which he advocated permanence, and I agree. Those policy changes were allowing Medicare to cover at-home health visits and covering more specialty visits under Medicare and Medicaid. He did not, however, advocate for permanently relaxing HIPAA restrictions.

As the chairman and others in the hearing pointed out, the pandemic and the speed and flexibility of care it necessitated do not justify abandoning the important policy regulations protecting patient rights put forth by HIPAA. In fact, now more than ever, there will be increasingly large data sets going from home-based apps to providers and payers. Protecting that data at rest, in transit, and in use is critical to keeping our collective promise to patients that we will protect their privacy.

It makes sense to support in-home health permanently, particularly when a person is unable to travel, or shouldn’t leave their home. When someone believes they have contracted a killer virus, the last thing they – or any of us – need is for them to get in their car, drive to a facility, and sit in a crowded waiting room. Technology has evolved, and so have patient expectations. Today, healthcare can meet people where they are and bring stellar care through emerging technologies that innovative providers embrace. We’re talking about more than video chat. Just in the ClearDATA customer base, we’re seeing new organizations capitalizing on the cloud to deliver diagnostics in home, and a surge in remote monitoring devices.

Telehealth is not a one-time blip on the radar. The scale of virtual health or telemedicine that we have seen in the last few months is staggering and indicates much of it is here to stay. MedCity cites UVA’s 9,000% increase in telehealth visits. Add to that Mass General and Brigham and Women’s Hospital’s 605,000 virtual visits since March. Providers like Remedy (MyRemedy.com), which provides 24/7 urgent care on a patient’s phone or at home, report staggering growth – up 1,500% from this time last year. That’s some powerful and innovative scaling, and my hat is off to all of the frontline workers – be they doctors and nurses, or technicians and app developers – who made that happen. Patients needed that access then and they deserve to maintain that access now.

It’s because of that – not despite it – that we must ensure we meet HIPAA requirements and can continue to operate as an industry within compliance frameworks. At ClearDATA, our customers are looking to us to help navigate those choppy waters. We can and we do.

ClearDATA enables healthcare and life science organizations to adopt modern cloud software technologies and practices that drive innovation, while ensuring that sensitive data is protected and compliance obligations are met.

We help them transform and innovate in a secure, compliant cloud in the following ways:

  • Automate: Eliminate manual, fragile processes, automate cloud, security & compliance.
  • Remediate: Continuous Privacy, Security, Compliance automated evaluation & remediation.
  • Demonstrate: Visualize your compliance status and gain insight into where PHI flows throughout your application.
  • Accelerate: Scale in the cloud faster with healthcare & IT expertise from ClearDATA
  • So you can Innovate: Focus on your application to improve patient outcomes while ClearDATA keeps you safe and secure.

It took a pandemic to move the needle on telehealth. Let’s hope the changes advocated by the Senate Committee on Health, Education, Labor, and Pensions become law. Regardless, the work at ClearDATA continues – never wavering – to make the innovations that happen across healthcare secure and compliant, so patient privacy is intact.

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