CDT: Privacy, security concerns at forefront of telehealth

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The full potential of telehealth cannot be realized unless privacy and security risks are addressed up front, according to Joseph Lorenzo Hall, chief technologist at the Center for Democracy and Technology.  

In a recent blog post referring to his article in the latest issue of Health Affairs, Hall says that he "wants to stress" that he and co-author Deven McGraw--director of the Health Privacy Project at CDT--really think telehealth can be an incredible tool for improving healthcare and the world.

Telehealth's primary privacy risks are mostly about the lack of controls on collection and the use of disclosure of personal health information (PHI), Hall notes. 

For example, sensors that could be connected to a person may inadvertently reveal sensitive information about activities in the home, including information not about the patient or non-medical activities.

Hall says that while HIPAA and HITECH cover some of telehealth's issues--and the FDA is working toward it, as well--the Federal Trade Commission is able to best govern telehealth, at present. 

"We believe the FTC, with its jurisdiction over deceptive and unfair practices and growing experience with the technical aspects of consumer technologies, is best positioned to develop a framework that balances privacy and security with practicality," Hall says. "Ultimately Congress will need to authorize the FTC to play this role."

Doctors have faith in the care telemedicine helps to provide. As noted by panelists at a recent forum in Washington, D.C., telemedicine offers a way for doctors to treat more patients as the Affordable Care Act brings in more people seeking care without compromising quality.

Another study from the current issue of Health Affairs notes that state policies on factors such as reimbursement and licensure are central to hospitals' decisions to offer telemedicine services. 

To learn more:
- read Hall's post
- here's the Health Affairs abstract

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