Harvard Researchers Question The Security Of Telemedicine

F.J. Thomas

Sarasota, FL (WorkersCompensation.com) – A recent article written by researchers at Harvard, and Brigham and Women’s Hospital brings up several security issues with the increased use of telemedicine and recent changes in regulations. “Telemedicine, privacy, and information security in the age of COVID-19,” written by Harvard IT professor Mohammad Jalali, Brigham professor William Gordon, MD and Brigham CIO Adam Landman, MD, was recently published in the Journal of Informatics in Health and Medicine. The article highlights some of the security issues with telemedicine and challenges the healthcare industry to step up and allocate more resources and funding.

Since before the start of COVID-19, cyberattacks resulting in data breaches have gradually increased, growing in complexity and scope. Just last month, the Department of Homeland Security issued a warning of increased cyberattacks for all healthcare providers. Last week, the Department of Homeland Security announced that even with advanced security measures, the federal government’s own computer networks had been compromised to a depth and scale not yet determined.

One point that the researchers made is that efforts to reduce malware infections have actually backfired to a certain extent. Increased security measures have also led to employee workloads. Studies show that increased workloads can potentially contribute to employees clicking on phishing links in emails.

Earlier this year, in response to the pandemic, the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) relaxed telemedicine requirements and added to the list of billable services to allow for increased use of virtual technology to treat patients. One of the many changes made by HHS was to relax restrictions on communication apps to make telemedicine more accessible to the average patient. Apps like Apple FaceTime, Facebook Messenger video chat, Google Hangouts, Zoom, and Skype have all been approved for telehealth use.

Anyone that has been on Facebook for any amount of time is very familiar with accounts that have been cloned or hacked. One issue that the researchers raised with the use of public apps such as Facebook Messenger, Zoom or Google Hangouts, is the potential for intruders to join in by hacking and then eavesdrop, thus gaining access to personal information.

The problem is that these platforms simply do not have the security measures that a medical or healthcare platform typically has. The researchers called for the medical community to invest in transitioning to platforms designed specifically for healthcare use. Additionally, they stated that healthcare executives should be willing to invest in revolutionizing their cybersecurity infrastructures to improve telemedicine by maintaining patient security and data integrity.

Integration of software is one of the largest business expenses in healthcare. However, considering the increased need for virtual care and the increase in data breaches via cyberattacks, it may be an expense that practices simply cannot afford to delay.

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