Surge in virtual care brings increased privacy risks – Talk Business & Politics

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In September Costco became the closest retailer Offering members access to virtual primary care for $29 telehealth visits, $72 standard lab panels with a consultant and $79 virtual therapy visits. This jump to the Amazon is limited to physical and largely virtual primary care Purchase of one treatment At the beginning of the year, approximately three years were removed before the start Amazon Pharmacy In 2020.

Alongside these giant retailers, start-up companies like BetterHelp and Calmery have emerged as players in the online mental health treatment market, responding to the demand for mental health services and real access resulting from the COVID-19 pandemic. Treatment in the privacy of one’s own environment.

When you share personal and sensitive health information directly or in person with a healthcare provider, you expect your information to be confidential and secure, but is it?

In most cases, your health care provider will “Covered body” concerned Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act (HIPAA), a federal law that protects sensitive patient health information from being disclosed without the patient’s consent or knowledge. However, not all healthcare providers are subject to HIPAA requirements. If a health care provider does not accept insurance – and therefore does not accept Submit electronic claims For billing purposes to insurers – then the provider is not a covered entity under HIPAA requirements.

Many of these new companies that offer virtual options for convenient care have chosen not to accept health insurance, and their reasons vary. Some do not believe that a business model that leaves them with a reduced negotiated price for the health care services they provide and a direct patient payment model is the only sustainable way forward. Some believe that eliminating third-party intervention increases patient-provider flexibility. Others want to avoid the hassle and complexity of regulations to maintain medical records, billing compliance, and prior authorization requirements for patients to receive certain treatments.

On the one hand, a health care provider’s decision not to accept insurance can give them more control over how they interact with their patients. On the other hand, it exempts patients from regulation and certain legal requirements, including HIPAA, intended to protect patients from bad actors.

What does this mean if you decide to use these types of services that do not accept insurance? This means that the Office for Civil Rights in the US Department of Health and Human Services – the agency that enforces HIPAA – He can’t wait for you Against unauthorized disclosure of your personal health information. of Arkansas Personal Information Protection Act – enforced by the Arkansas Attorney General’s Deceptive Business Practices Act – provides some protection for “not implementing reasonable security procedures and practices” to protect personal information from “unauthorized access, destruction, use, modification or disclosure,” but the statute does not specify what disclosures may be appropriate.

Some states are. Filling the gaps Federal privacy laws. For example, the California Consumer Privacy Act It provides a party with privacy protections, including the right to know about the personal information it collects and how it is used and shared, the right to opt out of sharing personal information, and the right to correct inaccurate personal information.

The Federal Trade Commission has been proactive in addressing the mishandling of patient information through its mandate to enforce laws that prohibit unfair and deceptive trade practices. In March The FTC announced BetterHelp has been fined $7.8 million and barred from publishing patient mental health information on social media for breaking promises. This issue also has attention of CongressIn 2010, policymakers questioned telehealth companies about their data-sharing practices. Maintaining protections for health and online environment data privacy protection..

To be fair, many of these emerging virtual care providers agree to comply with HIPAA requirements even though they are not subject to them or otherwise offer privacy and security protections in terms and conditions for using their services. It is important that you read and understand their privacy policy, including how your personal information is collected and used.

Other ways to protect your personal information include:

  • Educate yourself about the platform You are using it to make informed choices about the privacy protections offered.
  • Opting out of optional cookies that collect information about how you use the Platform or for targeted marketing or advertising.
  • Not allowing the Platform to access your social media accounts, contacts and location as much as possible.
  • Ask if the platform has a HIPAA-compliant policy and ask for documentation.

Virtual care – especially for mental health needs – certainly has the potential to improve access, but there are always transitions in healthcare. If you decide to use one of these services, make sure your information is as secure as possible. Don’t trade your privacy for convenience.

Editor’s Note: Craig Wilson, JD, MPA, is director of health policy for the Arkansas Center for Health Improvement, a nonprofit health policy center in Little Rock. The opinions expressed are those of the author.

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