With teledentistry becoming a popular care option for patients, many are concerned about privacy when using such services. While medical information is always strictly protected, teledentistry is a newer industry, and many are worried about its security and privacy practices.
Fortunately, existing medical privacy laws like HIPAA protect patients regardless of whether they seek an online dental consultation or an in-office treatment. Today, we'll look at what HIPAA is and its role in protecting privacy in teledentistry.
Is HIPAA Relevant for Teledentistry?
The Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act of 1996 (HIPAA) was created to protect the privacy of medical records and other personal information. The bill extends to any healthcare providers transmitting digital information, which means teledentistry and any related communication is covered.
Two critical pieces that HIPAA defines are the concept of protected health information and how to handle communication and storage of that information appropriately. These two items are vital in protecting the privacy rights of patients.
What Is Protected Health Information for Teledentistry?
Protected Health Information (PHI) is any information that can be linked back to an individual. PHI includes a wide range of information, including:
- Medical test results
- Prescription information
- Names and addresses of patients
- Phone numbers and email addresses
- Social security numbers
- Information on current or past medical procedures
Anytime you share information that can be linked back to you with your teledentistry provider, it is PHI and must be handled accordingly. HIPAA defines a strict set of rules for how this data is received and how it is stored.
How Does HIPAA Protect my Teledentistry Data?
HIPAA provides rules for how providers must handle any PHI they receive. To start, any time that information is transmitted, it needs to be over an encrypted connection. An encrypted connection means that no third parties will be able to access the data in transit. Software designed to transmit medical information will have the encryption built into the system.
The next protection requires that all companies store your personal information on their encrypted servers. Encrypting data is a best practice for cybersecurity and a requirement for any healthcare provider that stores data. Authorized parties can only access encrypted data. It also extends to any paper copies they might request; it too is protected by the same security rules.
Periodic audits are conducted by the Department of Health and Human Services to enforce these rules. There are hefty fines and public relations problems for companies that fail, so most teledentistry companies will be eager to assure you that they are following all the rules.
HIPAA Compliant Software for Telehealth
A place where HIPAA heavily governs teledentistry is the software they use. All communication between you and the teledentistry provider must be encrypted for it to be HIPAA compliant, and many consumer-facing applications don't satisfy this.
Text messaging apps and popular video applications such as Skype do not meet HIPAA compliance guidelines. Look for HIPAA-compliant software such as Zoom (zoom.us) to be used by your teledentistry provider. If you have any concerns, make sure to voice them, and don't be afraid to ask about the software's security.
Privacy in Teledentistry With HIPAA
Online dental regulations have been created to protect the private medical information of all patients around the country. Privacy is a top concern for all teledentistry patients, and companies know that. Look for companies to be doing what they can to alleviate patient concerns and be open about their policies. HIPAA is an essential law to understand and is something that will help keep teledentistry on the right track.