An insightful Position Paper published by the Physician-Patient Alliance for Health & Safety (PPAHS) coinciding with the American Thoracic Society’s annual conference [ATS 2021] recognizes the need for improved technologies and procedures to measure lung dynamics and function that can be safely sustained during pandemics.
By Brad Smith (technology expert, TurnOnVPN, a non-profit organization focusing on a free and unimpeded internet for all)
During the COVID pandemic, many patients were stuck at home, left with no way to make their regular medical appointments. For this very reason, many doctors, therapists, and psychiatrists began emphasizing the importance of telehealth.
According to JAMA Network Open, telehealth services saw a greater than 1000% increase last March—around the time the pandemic started.
With telehealth, patients could continue their regular appointments with little hindrance, medical resources on-site wouldn’t be so strained, and it would be easier than ever for doctors and patients to communicate with each other.
Dangers Facing Telehealth Patients
All that said, telehealth patients need to be careful when using telehealth services. Why? Cybercriminals have begun focusing on telehealth services in a couple of ways.
Note that these risks affect patients more so than medical practices. The reason being that, while medical practices are required to pay attention to cybersecurity and follow HIPAA Compliance, patients are often caught lacking in the cybersecurity department.
Let’s start by talking about data breaches. If neither the patient nor the medical staff neglect proper cybersecurity, it becomes easy for a cybercriminal to breach both parties’ data.
For example, an unsecured call opens both the patient and staff up to a man-in-the-middle attack, a practice where a cybercriminal listens in on a call and intercepts the data transfer between both parties. Patients are especially vulnerable to this if they are not on a secure network.
If cybercriminals have learned one thing, it’s that phishing scams, unfortunately, work. The reason for this is that when it comes to serious topics like anything regarding a patient’s health, they will respond before they verify the source of the email.
Typically, phishing scams will ask for personal information or take the patient to an online form where they will fill out a form with tons of their personal information (their social security number, for example).
How Patients Can Secure Their Devices
Fortunately, there are plenty of ways that patients can secure their data while using telehealth services. Today, let’s go over three of the best ways to do so.
1. Encrypt Their Connection
To avoid data breaches (on the patient’s end) and man-in-the-middle attacks, it is recommended that all telehealth patients encrypt their connections. This means strengthening the security of their network and encrypting the data their device sends out during a telehealth visit.
Modern home networks often come with good encryption, so patients should mainly focus on encrypting their device’s data with a VPN, a Virtual Private Network. What a VPN does is actively encrypt the data your device sends out and anonymizes your presence on a network, making it a perfect solution for active data encryption.
2. Use Strong Passwords for Telehealth-Related Accounts
Many doctors use services like MyChart to make patient communication easier. Messages, test results, and notes: telehealth services like MyChart are useful for both patients and medical staff. And since private patient information is shared on these services, patients often need to create accounts and secure their accounts with a password.
That said, some patients probably don’t use as strong of a password as they should. If you use an online telehealth service, make sure that your password is strong enough that a cybercriminal can’t guess it.
3. Scan Their Device(s) for Malware
Patients need to routinely check their devices for malware. Since certain types of malware—spyware and keyloggers being major culprits—can often go undetected for extended periods of time, performing routine scans will help patients stay secure, especially during telehealth visits.
With a rise in telehealth comes a rise in cybercriminals targeting patients with scams and cyber-attacks. To stay safe, patients need to do the best they can to secure their devices, which means using strong passwords, scanning their devices for threats, and encrypting their data.
On May 25, 2020, George Floyd was killed during an arrest by the Minneapolis police. Since that time, Derek Chauvin (one of the police involved in that incident) has been found guilty of second-degree murder, third-degree murder, and manslaughter, and the other three former Minneapolis police officers involved in his death have been indicted on federal civil rights charges.
There have been calls for policing to be reformed. However, we must acknowledge that Black Lives Matter goes beyond policing.
Race is a patient safety issue. As the Association of Black Cardiologists stated with the American Heart Association and the American College of Cardiology on May 31, 2020:
“Like cardiovascular disease, acts of violence and racism are core causes of psychosocial stress that promote poor well-being and cardiovascular health, especially for communities of color. Given that heart disease and stroke are the leading causes of death for communities of color, particularly African-Americans who have the lowest life-expectancy of all racial/ethnic groups living in the United States, we are extremely disturbed by violent acts that cut to the core of the lives of our community. Therefore, along with other leading health organizations, we DENOUNCE incidents of racism and violence that continue to ravage our communities … The profound grief and stress triggered by these events, as well as the consequences for black lives, contribute significantly to cardiovascular risk. Each episode has emotional and physiological effects on individuals and all communities.”
Disparities, inequities, violence, and racism are completely unacceptable.
We must act NOW to address any and all inequities in the delivery of care. We must recognize that Black Lives Matter is not just a call for justice and about the murder of George Floyd, but also a time to fix healthcare inequalities wherever they exist.
We must act NOW to:
- Actively be anti-racist.
- Recognize that racism is not just a health disparity issue, but a societal issue that has a profound impact on ALL communities.
- Identify and call out racism, whether that it exists in ourselves, our neighbors, or in our leaders.
- Listen and follow black voices, like the Association of Black Cardiologists and the National Black Nurses Association.
To read the Physician-Patient Alliance for Health & Safety position statement, “Black Lives Matter, Healthcare Inequalities, and the Need for Systemic Change, please click here.
At the recent Crittenden Medical Insurance Conference held virtually from April 13-14, 2021, Michael Wong, JD (Founder and Executive Director, Physician-Patient Alliance for Health & Safety (PPAHS)) predicted that malpractice cases will likely rise post-COVID due to delayed diagnosis.
Presenting with Mr. Wong were:
- Naresh M. Punjabi, MD, PhD (Mary Jane and Lino Sertel Professor of Pulmonary Diseases, Department of Medicine, University of Miami, Miller School of Medicine)
- Jason P. Kirkness, Ph.D. (Medicine), ATSF (Drug/Device Discovery and Development Committee, American Thoracic Society; VP Medical and Clinical Affairs, 4DMedical)
Editor’s note: Millions of US adults who care for aging parents worry whether they can cope, how their family will react, and their relationship with their mom or dad.
By Aaron Goldsmith (owner, Transfer Master)
Caring for an elderly parent can be one of the most rewarding things you will ever do. But it can also be a source of stress, resentment, and burnout. Becoming your elderly parent’s caregiver is a huge responsibility, and it often entails a significant change to your lifestyle. You might be worried about how your family will react or whether you can cope with your parent’s care needs, especially as they get older.