Survey Finds Consumers Embracing Telehealth, Concerned About Security Risks

Although the majority of survey respondents will continue using telehealth, providers must ensure the safety of their software in order to maintain patient trust.

New survey results found that more than 70% of respondents plan to continue using telemedicine after the coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19) pandemic, although they also noted that privacy and protection of sensitive health data were cited as major concerns.

The survey was conducted by cybersecurity firm CynergisTek between June 24 and 26, 2020, and included 5005 adults in the United States.

“We find ourselves in a very unique scenario, where consumers had to accept telehealth almost overnight,” said Russell P. Branzell, MA, president and CEO of the College of Healthcare Information Management Executives, in a statement. “The progress has been amazing to see in creating easier access to care while reducing the burden on both providers and patients. However, we must remain vigilant in our efforts to protect and secure telehealth and other digital health technologies.”

As the pandemic began, many patients faced decisions about whether to continue or delay their care, and telehealth may present a solution. According to the survey, 56% of Americans have considered postponing non-emergency medical appointments until the pandemic ends. Notably, 25% of respondents said they would postpone annual vaccines, such as flu shots, and nearly 40% are considering delaying annual physicals.

Telehealth options have skyrocketed during the pandemic and offer convenience and access to care when many patients are concerned about entering a physician’s office or other in-person site, according to a press release. The survey found that 39% of Americans still chose in-person visits during the pandemic, but more than 54% opted for a telehealth option. Phone consultations and video visits were the 2 most popular choices in the survey.

The researchers also found that of those who have used telehealth services during the pandemic, 73% said they will continue using virtual visits after the pandemic ends. Interestingly, 79% of male respondents said they will continue using telehealth services, compared with 67% of female respondents.

Millennials are also statistically more likely than any other generation to continue using telehealth options, with 81% answering affirmatively. Generation X was the next most likely, with 79% answering affirmatively. In a hypothetical situation in which they needed medical care, nearly 25% of Americans said they would not consider using a telehealth solution. This statistic is highest among the Silent Generation (59%) and Baby Boomers (41%).

Despite the finding that many Americans will continue to use telehealth services, the survey also found that 48% would be unlikely to use these solutions again if their personal health data were hacked due to a security breach. This statistic increased to 54% among women, compared with 41% among men. Baby Boomers and the Silent Generation were the 2 most unlikely to return to telehealth solutions if their data were breached (62% and 65%, respectively).

The researchers noted a recent report that found an increase in attacks targeting video-conferencing tools, such as Zoom. They said this finding reinforces the need for health care providers to assess their security posture and fortify their cyber-defenses in order to maintain their patients’ trust and business.

“We appreciate that this is a new development and health care providers are balancing all the new demands the pandemic has created,” said David Finn, MA, executive vice president of strategic innovation at CynergisTek, in a statement. “However, the first step is to assess how the data is encrypted and who is authorized to access this data. From there, IT teams should work closely with leadership to fill in the security gaps on telehealth solutions that protect patients while also providing the convenience.”

REFERENCE

The Future of Care is Telehealth, But Security Risks Could Slow Service Adoption [news release]. CynergisTek; August 18, 2020. Email. Accessed August 17, 2020.