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Why data security is vital for telemedicine platforms

SeekMed is a global telemedicine platform that allows patients worldwide to seek professional and ethical medical advice from India's eminent doctors. Alok Awasthi, Founder, SeekMed shares how patients are increasingly becoming sensitive to data privacy and demanding greater controls and measures

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Which are the most significant telehealth trends brought about by the Covid pandemic in India?

Covid crisis has put an extraordinary burden on the country’s healthcare infrastructure and forced hospitals to make difficult choices. Outpatient departments at majority of hospitals across the country were shut down to free up capacity for Covid patients. This left patients suffering from chronic and other non-communicable diseases with limited options. Thankfully, telemedicine providers were ready to step in to fill this gap and provided various platform choices for patients to connect with their healthcare providers. This combined with the government’s decision to relax norms around the use of telemedicine and continuous push has paved the way for broader adoption. Increasing number of patients looking for teleconsultations is not a surprise.

What is significant, is the fact that hospitals and clinics have opened up to telemedicine in a big way and are investing to ramp up their technology infrastructure. Another interesting observation is that corporates are adjusting their policies and proactively engaging with telemedicine providers to benefit their employees and support healthy work-life balance.

As a global telemedicine platform, what kind of growth have you witnessed in this country in the last six months?

At SeekMed, we’ve witnessed significant growth in teleconsultations in the last couple of quarters. This was more evident in Pulmonology, Endocrinology and ENT where we saw upwards of 500 per cent growth from pre-Covid days. Majority of our patients are elderly citizens suffering from complex medical conditions who’re looking to consult with super specialists for a second opinion. Another encouraging development is that more than 40 per cent of our patient community are women, who’re finding it more convenient to remotely consult with their trusted healthcare providers.

What challenges do telemedicine platforms face when it comes to data security?

Patients are increasingly becoming sensitive to data privacy and demanding greater controls and measures. Data security is a critical factor in the successful adoption of telemedicine platforms.

Cyber security will continue to be a major challenge as the data flows through various integration points and user interfaces. Personal information, medical records and financial information are always the prime targets of hackers.

Technology leaders must innovate and incorporate best practices to meet global standards.

Which best in class security measures have been adopted by SeekMed?

SeekMed being a global telemedicine platform receives patient requests from around the world. There’s greater emphasis on data privacy and confidentiality from patients coming from developed countries. As a result, we’ve developed our platform to be fully secure with 100 per cent data encryption and HIPAA (Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act – United States Data Privacy Law) compliant. Our data is securely stored in Amazon cloud with servers located in India. These measures combined with regular coaching of our patient focused workforce is our way of instilling confidence in the patient community that we take their data privacy concerns very seriously.

Your views on the India scenario compared to the international, regarding data protection in the digital healthcare sector?

Data privacy regulations in the form of HIPAA (United States), GDPR (European Union) or Data Protection Act (UK) have evolved significantly both in terms of awareness and adoption in the developed world. Roles such as Chief Data Protection Officer and Chief Information Security Officer are taking center stage in formulating policies and governance to safeguard sensitive and personally identifiable information.

From India scenario, Government has just announced a National Digital Health Mission to increase accessibility and deeper penetration of healthcare services. Enforcement of the Digital Information Security in Healthcare Act (DISHA) and Personal Data Protection Bill 2019 (PDPB) is essential for solving the present data security concerns.

The Covid pandemic has given an impetus to health tech startups in India, what according to you should be the focus of their data security implementations?

Technology platforms should be designed and developed with patients in mind and apply appropriate security controls and identity authentication. The way data is collected, handled, stored and reused from user entry points to consultations to backend and again to users through analytics and reports must follow strict norms and comply with local and global standards.

It’s important to highlight that data security is not just about technology but also about people and processes. Healthcare is an industry that deals with people’s lives.
Telemedicine providers should invest in regular training to make their workforce aware of data confidentiality and strive to promote a culture of data governance at each step.

Is there any other significant factor you would like to highlight?

Use of telemedicine is influenced by the degree of awareness among the patient community. Building trust around data security would be critical for its success. Transparency around the use of data to support medical research and getting patients’ consent is equally important. Telemedicine provides several benefits in the form of improving patient outcomes, increasing patient engagement and satisfaction and reducing the overall cost of healthcare delivery. However, platform owners must safeguard patients’ interests and prevent unintended use of their sensitive information.

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