With teledentistry becoming a popular option for dental care, patients are rightfully curious about their privacy when using such services. Online systems are notorious for being exploited by hackers and data breaches. When it comes to their sensitive medical data, patients expect the highest level of security. In this article, we will look at the policies in place to protect a teledental patients’ privacy.
Teledentistry and Patient Rights
As with all medical services, teledentistry is an industry that has strict rules for patient privacy and patient rights. Patients should expect teledental services to be regulated by a similar set of guidelines already used in-person dental visits. Regardless of how a patient accesses care, medical information is highly confidential and needs to be treated with the utmost sensitivity.
Fundamental medical rights, like the right to informed consent or the right to refuse treatment, are expected for any medical service. Teledentistry professionals must abide by these rights just the same as any other medical professional does.
Patients also have the right to ask for, and receive, information or stated policies on safety and privacy. Most teledentistry companies will be quick to offer this information as they are looking to ease any concerns their patients might have. Patients should expect access to important privacy information, including:
- Who has access to their medical information
- With whom is their medical information shared
- Why any medical information would be shared with a third party
- How to request copies of their personal information on file
- What medical and personal information is collected
These are all fairly standard questions, and any reputable telehealth or teledentistry company will be able to provide answers. While teledentistry is a remote service, it's no less professional than visiting a dentist's office. Therefore, teledentists must follow the strict guidelines that all medical professionals must follow regarding patient privacy. In fact, teledentistry companies often have extra privacy and safety considerations in place due to how easily and quickly they can receive patient data.
HIPPA and Teledentistry
One of the most important laws that govern medical information is HIPAA. HIPAA is the health insurance portability and accountability act of 1996. While it was created for traditional medical practices, it extends to teledentistry services as well.
In terms of privacy, HIPAA protects patients and explicitly defines protected health information for patients. Protected health information (PHI) encompasses a broad range of personal details, some of which include:
- Diagnosis information
- Patient treatments (both past and current)
- Prescriptions and medications
- Test results
- Emergency contact information
- Names and addresses of a patient
- Contact information like a phone number or email address
All information you give to healthcare providers that can be linked back to you counts as protected health information.
HIPPA requires that all PHI must be encrypted and viewable only by designated people. Only those who need access to your information should have it. It also stipulates that all data transmissions over the internet, including video, are encrypted. We'll talk about what encryption means in the next section on cybersecurity.
Penalties are severe for not following these requirements, so medical professionals are heavily incentivized to do so. Companies that are HIPPA compliant will proudly tout that fact as it one of the most common questions or concerns that patients will have.
Cybersecurity for Teledentistry Services
As teledentistry services take place virtually over the internet, cybersecurity is a huge concern. The news is full of high-profile data breaches, and consumers are rightfully concerned about their sensitive medical information.
The first important thing to ask a teledentistry company is whether the service uses end -o-end encryption. Data passed from you to the teledentistry service must be encrypted so that the designated recipient can only read it. This encryption is a requirement for both websites as well as desktop or mobile applications that you use to communicate with your teledentistry provider.
Also, HIPAA requires that teledentistry companies save encrypted data on their server. Ensuring that your data is encrypted on the teledentistry service's server means that only those who are designated will have access to read the data. When properly encrypted, even if a hacker somehow managed to steal the data, it would be useless to them as it would take millions of years to decrypt.
Medical information is something private that should be safely guarded, and teledentistry services know that. The industry has taken substantial steps on the technology front to protect patient data and make sure it's secure. With privacy concerns at the forefront of patients’ minds, teledentistry companies are sure to continue working to improve it to further alleviate any doubts their patients might have.