Teleradiology is revolutionizing workflow for radiology providers and increasing access to services for patients in even the most remote areas. By allowing radiologists to review scans from a distance and wherever they happen to be, health care facilities are able to offer quality services when they are needed and usually at a much lower cost.
Of course, with all of the benefits of teleradiology, some providers and patients still have concerns. Few providers and patients question the quality of teleradiology services — especially given that such arrangements often allow access to some of the most experienced and highly qualified practitioners in the world. Even fewer people question the value of such a service, especially in busy facilities with staffing limitations that cause delays in readings.
In general, the major concern about teleradiology stems from security or more specifically, the steps that providers and services take to protect the privacy and security of sensitive patient information. A patient record is often a gold mine of information; most include the patient’s name, address, date of birth, Social Security number and employer information. Of course, patient records also include information about symptoms and diagnoses, information that could be very valuable in certain circumstances. That is why it is vitally important for teleradiology providers to take adequate precautions against unauthorized access of patient records.
HIPAA and Privacy Rules
The Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act, or HIPAA, placed strict protections on patient information. Those protections extend to electronic records, and anyone who stores or uses electronic data files is responsible for keeping private information private. Failure to do so could result in significant consequences, including civil lawsuits and sanctions from the federal government.
Teleradiology providers, therefore, have to place a priority on protecting information. That means implementing a number of best practices, including:
Using a Private Storage Platform. The cloud has revolutionized the way that data is managed. By storing data, including patient records and scans, in a cloud-based platform, radiology professionals can easily access and manipulate images from their approved devices regardless of their location. However, maintaining adequate security means using a private cloud platform rather than a public or shared cloud, which could potentially allow unauthorized access. While HIPAA does not yet require private cloud storage per se, a private cloud is the most efficient option for meeting the strict privacy and security regulations imposed by the act.
Controlled Access. Not only is it important to control who has access to patient information on the teleradiology platform, but also to control how providers have access to the system. Security best practice is the implement two-factor authentication, which requires anyone who needs access to provide not only a password or security code, but also a token or biometric reading to ensure appropriate access.
Encryption. Data encryption is also important to maintaining patient security and privacy. Data should be encrypted during both transmission and storage, with password access required to unencrypt the data. Proper encryption will render the data useless should it fall into the wrong hands.
Logging. Ensuring that patient data is protected means not only preventing unauthorized access, but also effectively managing what happens to the data when it is accessed appropriately. Should questions arise, knowing exactly who accessed the data and what they did with it can go a long way toward solving problems. An effective logging system should identify who accessed the files, the date and time of access, from where the file was accessed and what changes were made to the file. The logging system should also identify every instance of a failed attempt at access, as that is often an indication that an attempted breach or a breach has taken place.
Maintaining patient privacy in a technologically advanced environment is a complex matter. With such sensitive data being transmitted all over the U.S. — and in some cases, the world — the standard security measures employed by most enterprises are simply inadequate to meet HIPAA requirements. Teleradiology providers, however, are acutely aware of these requirements and the need to protect data and are therefore engaged in continuous improvement to prevent serious data breaches. Following these best practices are merely the beginning, but represent a major portion of a patient information security plan.