Players in the healthcare industry are currently debating security best practices as medical providers and consumers alike shift to digital channels to minimize the virus’s spread. Security standards fragmentation and differences in how hospitals handle patients’ data have become more evident during the health crisis.
Patients with minor health concerns or basic medical questions have eschewed visits to doctors’ offices as the pandemic continues, choosing instead to use digital channels that eliminate some medical risks. One recent report revealed that telehealth sessions for U.S. seniors covered by Medicare rose from several thousand per week prior to the pandemic to approximately 1.3 million a week.
Telehealth solutions can minimize healthcare risks and keep expenses low. One study noted that these digital visits cost approximately 10 percent to 20 percent less than typical inpatient appointments. Concerns exist regarding how to best safeguard the information being shared on these channels, however, especially as healthcare fraud now accounts for about $300 billion in annual industry losses.
The following Deep Dive explains why verifying patients’ identities across digital channels is more important than ever, making the debate concerning data collection and security critical for healthcare providers and their technology partners to solve.
More Digital Data, More Digital Security
The rising number of online medical consultations is creating greater volumes of digital data, increasing the need to authenticate customers with solutions tailored to virtual channels. The sheer size of the U.S. healthcare industry — in which consumer spending reached $3.6 trillion in 2018 — complicates this task, though.
Digitally authenticating consumers’ identities presents other challenges, as hospitals’ and medical offices’ protocols for handling and regulating patients’ personal information vary by market. Healthcare providers in the U.S. must comply with federal regulations regarding the storage and management of medical data as well as any relevant state rules that have recently come into play. These can include laws like the California Consumer Privacy Act (CCPA) that primarily concern the handling of data on a statewide level as well as wide-ranging telehealth visit regulations being championed by organizations such as the American Health Association and discussed within the U.S. Senate.
Addressing this fragmentation will be key to helping healthcare providers digitally authenticate patients both during the pandemic and after it has passed. It will allow them to determine which emerging verification technologies are best suited to these channels and which digital identification forms can secure consumers’ information. These methods can be used alongside more traditional means of determining individuals’ identities, such as Social Security or driver’s license numbers. Digital technologies are thus beginning to highlight the importance of corresponding digital identities within the healthcare sector, especially amid the expanding popularity of telehealth solutions.
Examining Digital Identities’ Growing Importance
Building consensus on security measures is just the first step in crafting comprehensive digital identity processes. Healthcare providers must also be able to match individuals’ identities to digital identifiers within that larger framework, especially as telehealth solutions gain prominence. Telehealth sessions now account for 85 percent of outpatient visits at one New York state hospital, compared to just 4 percent prior to the pandemic, and many expect these types of appointments to remain popular once locations reopen.
Biometric solutions are emerging as tools that can add extra layers of authentication to digital channels. Facial or fingerprint recognition solutions can accurately verify users’ identities at the start of a session, as many consumers’ smartphones now come equipped with fingerprint readers or facial-scanning capabilities. The use of these technologies is becoming even more popular as patients turn to mobile devices to fill prescriptions or chat with their doctors via video.
Biometrics could become one of the main ways medical providers verify their customers’ digital identities, with one recent report estimating that the global value of such technologies in the healthcare industry could reach $3.5 billion by 2024.
Biometric verification technologies offer promise in the healthcare sector, but there are still regulatory and security hurdles that these tools must overcome before they can be widely implemented. Remote medical services and telehealth visits are fast becoming normal for patients during the pandemic, however, meaning providers must quickly find or develop standardized, safe digital identity verification solutions to authenticate their consumers.