How does HIPAA impact telepractice?
AS more and more speech-language pathologists are delivering services via telepractice, we have to make sure that the same level of confidentiality is being maintained during telepractice sessions as what we would do in person. However, clinicians doing telepractice interpret HIPAA by looking only at the privacy rules and may not necessarily be thinking about security rules that are a part of HIPAA. We want to make sure everything is in place so that whenever we interact with the patient through a telepractice delivery system, we are adhering to all of the privacy standards that we would adhere to in any other situation.
One of the security risks that come up is the location of the clinician when providing services. In your facility, you can create a very secure connection with your patient. Some of clinicians may be doing telepractice and connecting to the patient's home. The connection going in and out of the patient’s home is one you do not have control over, but you have to make sure that what you do on your end is at a level that will maintain confidentiality with that patient. You want to make sure that you are using some very specific software programs for telepractice. These are not the free ones. Antivirus, firewalls, etc. need to be in place to make sure that it remains secure and confidential.
The biggest issue that sometimes occurs is not necessarily the actual session itself that is being provided; but if you maintain a recording of the session and want to share that with other providers, you could be getting into an interesting situation. You have to be extremely careful about this, because you are sharing a lot of information about the patient and what you did in terms of treatment. If you have recordings of your telepractice sessions, make sure that data is secure, that it is on a server or computer that people do not have access to, and that it is password protected. You have to think through how you are going to store those sessions to make sure there are no breaches with that information.
Dr. K. Todd Houston is an Associate Professor in the School of Speech-Language Pathology and Audiology at The University of Akron. His primary areas of research include spoken language acquisition in children with hearing loss, strategies for enhancing parent engagement in the intervention process, Auditory-Verbal Therapy, cochlear implantation in children and adults, adult aural rehabilitation, and telepractice.