Telemedicine, Confidentiality, & HIPAA

Our medical information should remain private, and for good reason. Knowledge of our well-being can be deviously sold to advertising companies, used to defraud us, or generally disseminated to those without our best interests in mind.

We already know the doctor-patient relationship is protected. In a psychiatric office we know the conversations had, the examinations administered, and the diagnoses given are in confidence. Records are kept secure so no third party gains access.

So then what about telepsychiatry? In fact, what about telemedicine in general? The idea of new technology can make people uneasy. These days simply perusing Amazon leads to countless ads popping up over the next weeks and even months – for products eerily similar to those viewed while browsing. Some individuals may distrust the openness of the internet but solid measures are in place to ensure that not everything online is public.

In fact telemedicine allows for a great deal of privacy.

The Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act (HIPAA) was established in 1996 to, among other things, create new standards for protecting patient information electronically.

Early on telemedicine practices used secure networks which moved information from one source straight to the other. When the internet became widespread a less secure network (IP or “internet protocol” networks) became the norm. For telemedicine to work with online videoconferencing, doctors and computer experts followed HIPAA guidelines while getting the most out of new tech.

The result? Software akin to Skype but with encryption that keeps transactions, treatments, and medical records confidential. Programs like doxy.me and others allow patients in the comfort of their own homes to see and hear their doctors. In mental health this is extremely useful since psychiatrists/psychologists draw upon visual cues to make observations about behavior and treatment. The same goes for patients: they can understand their doctor more accurately with the reading of body language.

Aside from HIPAA regulations, telemedicine allows for discretion in other ways. The setting of an appointment can be at home, at the office during lunch, or over the cell phone on vacation. No need to cancel that trip – you can have your psychiatric appointment from the hotel!

Telemedicine even improves our privacy by giving us more time. For example if a patient is private regarding their mental health, they’re no longer forced to make an excuse for that hour and a half when they just couldn’t get back to the office. They can efficiently consult with their psychiatrist, have their medications delivered, and never worry about accounting for lost time or bumping into an acquaintance at the pharmacy.

If confidentiality is your concern, you can trust that telepsychiatry is just as secure as office visits and potentially more discreet.

Note: For assistance with behavioral health issues, contact us at 305-740-3340 or schedule an appointment with BregmanMD.

References:

American Psychological Association. Protecting your privacy: Understanding confidentiality. Retrieved on June 7, 2019 from https://www.apa.org/helpcenter/confidentiality

Coustasse, A., Deslich, S., Stec, B., Tomblin, S. (2013, July) Telepsychiatry in the 21st Century: Transforming Healthcare with Technology. Perspectives in Health Information Management. Retrieved on June 7, 2019 from https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3709879/

U.S. Department of Health & Human Services. HIPAA Privacy Rule and Sharing Information Related to Mental Health. Retrieved on June 5, 2019 from: https://www.hhs.gov/hipaa/for-professionals/special-topics/mental-health/index.html

Wikipedia contributors. (2019, June 6). Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act. In Wikipedia, The Free Encyclopedia. Retrieved 02:07, June 10, 2019, from https://en.wikipedia.org/w/index.php?title=Health_Insurance_Portability_and_Accountability_Act&oldid=900611096