The rise of telehealth

Alicia Marsiglia explains why the changing healthcare environment demands protection from an invisible threat

The rise of telehealth



The coronavirus pandemic has encouraged many changes in the health-care sector, far beyond management of the disease itself. The emergence of telehealth as an attractive, practical option in a socially distanced world could permanently alter the way we provide and receive medical services. But like many medical innovations, tele-health also opens up a lucrative opportunity for cybercriminals.

Telehealth uses technology to digitally connect patients with their care providers, who can deliver advice, diagnoses and even some forms of treatment virtually. Practitioners can use these applications to create digitized notes, helping them meet standards for the upkeep of electronic health records. Telehealth has also spurred the development of ‘virtual rooming assistants’, which can admit patients into digital exam rooms and note medical histories, improving the efficiency of providers.

As businesses take advantage of the benefits of telehealth, they may be unaware that they also face an increased risk of cyber liability. The digital transfer of information between patient and provider, followed by the online storage of healthcare data, can be a tempting draw for cybercriminals. Theft of healthcare records is arguably the most lucrative form of cybercrime; a healthcare data record can be valued at up to $250 on the illegal market. By comparison, a payment card is valued at just $5.40, according to Trustwave.

This highly personal information can be harvested and sold to forgers, human traf-fickers or those looking to exploit it for a ransom. According to the US National Library of  Medicine,  41.2  million  healthcare  records  were  exposed,  stolen  or  illegally  disclosed  in 2019 alone.

There  are  a  few  crucial  ways  that  health-care   providers   can   combat   this   threat.   Businesses  should  check  their  networks  for  vulnerabilities  and  ensure  that  any  home  devices,  in  particular,  are  up  to  date  with he  latest  firewalls.  Any  device  that  is  using  Windows  7  should  be  prioritized  for  an  update, as the discontinued operating system is no longer offering security updates and is at greater risk of viruses and malware.

“The digital transfer of information between patient and provider, followed by the online storage of healthcare data, can be a tempting draw for cybercriminals”

In addition, one of the most effective tools to  prevent  cyber  incidents  is  cybersecurity  education.  The  rise  in  COVID-19-related  phishing  emails  offering  in-demand  items,  including  N95  masks  and  ventilators,  could  be  stymied  by  training  employees  on  what  to  look for to avoid an attack.

Mitigating  the  damage  if  a  cyberattack  occurs  is  also  imperative.  Cyber  insurance  coverage  can  include  emergency  response  tools  and  training  resources  to  reduce  the  impact  of  a  breach  on  a  provider’s  bottom  line,  and  it  can  be  conveniently  packaged with  professional  and  general  liability  poli-cies.  Packaging  cyber  coverage  with  other  types  of  insurance  minimizes  the  chance  that  a  claim  falls  uncovered  into  the  cracks  between carriers.

When  comparing  cyber  coverage,  health-care  providers  and  their  brokers  should  keep  in  mind  that  endorsements  and  add-on  coverages,  while  more  cost-effective,  are  not  typically  designed  to  provide  the  full  breadth  of  cyber  protection.  Look  for  an  insurer  that  has  expertise  in  both  cyber  and  healthcare  liability, and when discussing coverage, ensure that the services and operations planned over the  policy  period  are  clearly  communicated  to  obtain  suitable  protection.  As  a  result  of  COVID-19,  carriers  are  looking  to  limit  their  exposure  to  similar  large-scale  events,  so  it’s  also  important  to  review  communicable  disease  exclusions  to  determine  the  types  of  claims and loss amounts a policy covers.

The  pandemic  has  revealed  our  capability  to adapt, evolve and triumph under immense pressure,  and  the  healthcare  industry  is  a perfect  example.  Even  when  some  busi-nesses  return  to  brick-and-mortar  locations,  virtual  services  will  continue  to  be  a  source  of  revenue  for  healthcare  providers  and  will  remain  a  convenient  choice  for  patients.  The  pervasiveness of telehealth will depend on the willingness of health insurers to reimburse for visits over a virtual platform, the extension of temporary  directives  under  state  and  federal  regulation,  and,  ultimately,  on  providers’  commitment  to  protecting  themselves  and  their patients by minimizing cyber risks.


Alicia Marsiglia is vice president and allied healthcare product head for Hiscox USA and a Hiscox partner. She has 14 years of professional liability experience, primarily in healthcare lines product management.

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