Is your information secure when you use telehealth?

Published: May. 28, 2020 at 5:51 PM EDT
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Telehealth is booming. The UVM Health Network tells us just 1%-2% of their visits prior to the coronavirus outbreak were via video conferencing. Now, it's up to 80%. So we sent Cat Viglienzoni to find out how they keep your medical appointments secure.

The next time you see your doctor, it might be through a video conferencing platform like Zoom. However, some of you have questions about whether that's secure because you've seen headlines about hackers targeting video conferencing mediums. So you wanted us to find out-- is your health care information secure?

"I'm a person who wants to protect their privacy. It's important to me and I certainly don't want to be discussing my medical issues on Zoom," said Laura Frey of Essex Junction.

Frey reached out to WCAX News after her doctor's office called her to set up an appointment on Zoom. She says she insisted on a phone call instead because she's concerned about the security of the videoconferencing platform.

"I'd like to know more. I'd like to know that if I approach my doctor, that they're going to be using a safe platform for me to have a discussion with them," Frey said.

She wanted us to find out if Zoom is HIPAA-compliant. And the answer we got is maybe, depending on what protections a health care provider puts in place.

"Patients rightfully are approaching this very cautiously," said Shireen Hart, a health care attorney.

Hart says back in March, the federal government relaxed restrictions on video conferencing platforms to give providers more ways to connect with patients during the pandemic via Zoom, Skype, Facetime and more. She says providers have to take steps to keep visits as secure as possible on whichever platform they use and communicate any risks to the patient.

"I think the most important thing is the communication to the patient on the outset," Hart said.

She hasn't heard of any instances where a health care appointment has been hacked. And the UVM Health Network told us they haven't had any either.

"We have all the security tools in place to make sure that we are HIPAA-compliant," said Todd Young, the director of telehealth services at the UVM Health Network.

Young says that includes complex meeting IDs, passcodes only known to the patient and provider, and encryption. Security features they pay extra to have. They were already using Zoom in this way before the pandemic hit. And Young says they've gone from 60 telehealth visits a week to more than 6,000.

"It's a platform that our patients are very familiar with outside of health care. So it really helps with the onboarding of patients and the usage of patients," Young said.

Frey says she wants to see those protections in writing before she tries it.

"I just want my privacy and I want to be assured that my health care providers are watching over that," she said.

So how long will medical professionals be able to use nonstandard services like this? We don't know. Hart tells me the order to loosen restrictions on video conferencing platforms extends for the state of emergency. And there's no word on when that will end for the federal government.