With many dental services moving to teledental solutions, the topic of cybersecurity often comes up. The nightly news routinely includes stories of data breaches and customers' private data falling into the wrong hands. Many consumers are rightfully concerned about the same thing happening to their medical information. With the scrutiny placed on teledentistry, the industry has worked hard to protect their patients' data. The teledentistry industry uses a variety of techniques to help keep your private data in the right hands.
What the Law Says About Teledentistry Cybersecurity
The most fundamental law related to teledentistry cybersecurity is The Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act of 1996 (HIPAA). Its regulations do a lot to protect patient privacy, but also explicitly call out how medical information should be transmitted and stored. The law spells out the requirements for digital transmission and storage over the internet of private information.
In particular, HIPAA requires encryption of communication as well as keeping all data stored in an encrypted format. Penalties for not following this can reach up to $1.5 million, a clear incentive for dentists to make sure that they are compliant. HIPAA covers all sorts of healthcare providers, which includes dentists and teledentists.
End-to-End Encryption is Required
The primary requirement that all teledentistry companies must follow is that all data transmitted is done so with end-to-end encryption. End-to-end encryption prevents unauthorized access by encrypting the data throughout the communication. This type of encryption involves your device making a secure connection to the teledentistry service and then only communicating on that secure line. Without end-to-end encryption, a third party could easily snoop on your data and steal your personal information.
All websites and applications you use to communicate with your dentist should implement encryption. Not all consumer-facing software satisfies this requirement, so there is an extensive range of custom and enterprise solutions built that do. For example, SMS text messages are not usually encrypted, while using the healthcare version of Zoom is.
If ever in doubt, ask your medical provider specifically if their website or application supports end-to-end encryption. Anything other than a firm "yes" violates HIPAA laws and puts your data at risk.
Sensitive Medical Data Must Be Server-Encrypted
Data that is collected and stored on a server also must be encrypted. Encrypted storage provides additional protection and means only those who are authorized can view your data. Most online software encrypts passwords, but all personally identifiable data included in medical information must also be encrypted.
Encryption also provides an additional layer of protection in the event of a data breach. Encrypted data is unreadable to hackers and would take millions of years to decrypt into a human-readable format.
Following Internet Safety Etiquette
Outside of the technical solutions, it's also essential for both dentists and patients to follow best practices for staying safe on the internet. Internet safety includes standard advice such as:
- Use only trusted wi-fi sources
- Avoid suspicious links as they may be scams
- Use strong passwords and change them frequently
- Keep your device clean of malware
- Physically secure your device when not in use
These are all practical tips for any web browsing, but take on increased importance when dealing with medical information. A compromised password can lead to a hacker getting your private information.
Medical information is sensitive; teledentistry companies know this and do everything they can to keep it secure. Teledental regulations such as those required by HIPAA, as well as careful attention by online providers to best cybersecurity practices are working hard to keep your information private and protected.