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The COVID-19 pandemic accelerated the shift into telehealth. Now healthcare institutions face a new challenge: making it secure.

For years, telehealth services have languished. Just a few years ago 82 percent of U.S. consumers had never used a remote healthcare service. Then everything changed. “The pandemic accelerated the need for digital transformation dramatically,” says Karly Rowe, vice president of patient access, identity, and care management product at Experian Health.

Remote challenges

That increased demand for remote health services has stressed healthcare providers. The effects of the pandemic were unprecedented, and hospitals and other institutions lacked any sort of roadmap for it, forcing them to improvise.

That improvisation and increase in remote health services also brings security challenges because they access sensitive patient data. The FBI has warned of an increase in ransomware attacks against healthcare institutions. These attacks typically use phishing email techniques to gain unauthorized access to networks, encrypt the data, and charge a ransom (typically in untraceable cryptocurrency) to unlock everything.

“With increased adoption comes an increased threat,” Rowe points out. “The healthcare industry should expect to see increased ransomware attacks and fraudulent activity because bad actors are following the activity. What that means in terms of the healthcare industry is that more vigilance and thought are necessary when considering what patient access tools to use and how to secure them,” says Rowe.

Better tools

The need to secure patient data and protect internal networks requires a suite of solutions. “It’s not like there’s a silver bullet,” Rowe says. “It’s a multi-pronged strategy that health organizations need to consider, and it’s going to evolve.”

Implementing video visits, for example, requires integrating a video platform into existing EHR systems. Suddenly having 80 percent of a hospital’s workforce working remotely requires setting up extra security layers, like two-factor authentication (2FA) and network monitoring capabilities. To achieve these goals, Rowe stresses that healthcare systems need the right partners.

“Experian Health provides several authentication tools to help verify a patient’s identity, making access both convenient and secure for the patient,” she explains. “We integrate with most of the large EHR vendors and provide a service that’s very similar to an experience you might have in financial services or when signing on to a retailer for the first time from a different device.”

The benefits of partnering with a trusted vendor to automate this process goes beyond security. “It allows our providers to focus on providing care to patients instead of going about a manual process to input a patient’s information or send a security code,” Rowe notes. “Our service helps automate that whole workflow.”

Another benefit is speed. Setting up services like video visits from scratch would typically take a year or longer for most institutions. In some cases, the pandemic required activation in just weeks.

“During COVID we’ve had clients up and running on this critical service in less than 10 days,” Rowe notes. “And then we start ongoing optimization. We work with them on configuration. We provide best practices based on what we’ve seen in the industry — we’ve been providing these services for many years and have hundreds of clients.”

Setting up these tools now will pay off in the future. Telehealth, for example, was once only common in isolated, rural areas, but it’s suddenly everywhere. Now that people are comfortable with the technology, chances are it will continue to grow in popularity even after the pandemic ends.

“Consumers are getting much more interested in what they’re paying for and that includes the experience,” Rowe adds. “They expect it to match the consumer experience in other areas of their life that deliver simplicity and convenience.”

It all comes back to the patients that healthcare systems serve. “Healthcare should not be something that people dread to engage [with],” Rowe says. “It’s clearly imperative we move to a digital platform. And that’s where the security element has to perform effectively and without adding friction.”

To learn more about how to protect your patients and improve security, visit experian.com/healthcare.

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