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Survey reveals patients resorting to telehealth as the preferred alternative to in-person visits and elective care throughout pandemic; nearly half of respondents would limit use of telehealth if healthcare data breach occurred

AUSTIN, TX (AUGUST 18, 2020) – CynergisTek, a leading cybersecurity firm helping more than 1,000 hospitals navigate emerging security and privacy issues, today released survey results quantifying the shift in patients electing to use telehealth services during the pandemic, with more than half of Americans (54 percent) opting for virtual visits during pandemic. Of those, more than 70 percent of respondents plan to continue to use telemedicine post-pandemic. However, healthcare providers should note that privacy and protection of sensitive health data was a major concern for telemedicine users and breaches could prompt patients to switch doctors.

“The rapid growth of telehealth has accelerated to a level we wouldn’t have expected to see over a 10-year timeframe,” said Caleb Barlow, president and CEO of CynergisTek. “However, major vulnerabilities are emerging around privacy and security standards for video conferencing and messaging apps when used for telehealth (such as consumer technologies like Zoom), which can be easily infiltrated – providing hackers with additional opportunities to breach highly-sensitive information.”

Delaying In-Person Visits, Spurring Rise of Telehealth

During the pandemic, a majority (56 percent) of Americans have considered postponing non-emergency medical appointments until the COVID-19 pandemic ends. When put in a hypothetical situation where they would need medical care during the COVID-19 pandemic, the types of appointments Americans are postponing include:

As Americans weigh their comfort level on what medical services require in-person visits with a physician or healthcare provider, telehealth options have skyrocketed as a popular alternative, providing convenience and access at a time when many are canceling appointments out of an abundance of caution.

According to the survey, while 39 percent of Americans opted for in-person visits, more than 54 percent of respondents opted for telehealth options with phone consultations and video visits being the two most popular. When examining consumers’ willingness to using telehealth post COVID-19, the survey found:

Embracing Telehealth and Balancing Security Needs to Protect Patients

While urgent visits require in-person consultation, Americans are looking to telehealth to fill in the gap for more routine types of care. In a hypothetical situation where they’d need medical care or advice, nearly 30 percent of respondents would also look to telehealth for chronic care check-ups (29 percent) or annual physical and children’s wellness exams (27 percent).

While patients are embracing telehealth, providers must prioritize security when rolling out phone and virtual services or else they risk potential breaches of sensitive patient data. A recent report found an increase in nefarious attacks targeting video-conferencing tools like Zoom, reinforcing the need for healthcare providers to reassess their security posture and fortify their defenses to reflect this new reality, potentially losing their patients’ trust and business.

Nearly half of respondents (48 percent) said they would be unlikely to use telehealth solutions again if their personal health data was hacked due to a telemedicine-related breach.

“We find ourselves in a very unique scenario, where consumers had to accept telehealth almost overnight,” said Russell P. Branzell, President and CEO of the College of Healthcare Information Management Executives. “The progress has been amazing to see in creating easier access to care while reducing the burden on both providers and patients. However, we must remain vigilant in our efforts to protect and secure telehealth and other digital health technologies. With the opportunities of digital health also come inherent security risks – but digital health’s risks are manageable. It is important for healthcare providers to take data privacy and security seriously in order to ensure that digital health platforms like telehealth remain an essential part of the future of patient care.”

“We appreciate that this is a new development and healthcare providers are balancing all the new demands the pandemic has created,” said David Finn, Executive Vice President of Strategic Innovation of CynergisTek.  “However, the first step is to assess how the data is encrypted and who is authorized to access this data. From there, IT teams should work closely with leadership to fill in the security gaps on telehealth solutions that protect patients while also providing the convenience.”

Survey Methodology

CynergisTek’s survey was conducted between June 24-26 2020, and includes 5,005 U.S. adults, ages 18+.

 

About CynergisTek

CynergisTek is a top-ranked cybersecurity firm dedicated to serving the information assurance needs of the healthcare industry. CynergisTek offers specialized services and solutions to help organizations achieve privacy, security, and compliance goals. Since 2004, the company has served as a partner to hundreds of healthcare organizations and is dedicated to supporting and educating the industry by contributing to relevant industry associations. The company has been recognized by KLAS as a top-performing firm in healthcare cybersecurity and was awarded the 2019 Top Healthcare Cybersecurity Consultants in Black Book IT Advisory Outcomes Survey.

 

Media Contact:
Allison + Partners
Jaime Tero
415-755-8639
jaime.tero@allisonpr.com

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