As the COVID-19 outbreak accelerates, healthcare professionals are among the most susceptible to becoming infected with the virus. While most shops and businesses are under mandatory lock-down orders, many clinics and practices remain open as essential services, meaning their staff are exposed to patients who may be infected. This has led to an unprecedented need for telehealth services, to allow clinicians to interact with their patients while maintaining the social distancing measures which are crucial to flattening the pandemic curve.
In response to this surge in demand, both established telemedicine companies like Teladoc Health and startups like 98point6 and Ro are rapidly adding capacity to their services. Given the importance of secure, reliable communications in telehealth applications, many providers are turning to secure global SIP trunking providers to future-proof their voice calling, SMS messaging and video conferencing offerings.
Video conferencing is the cornerstone of telemedicine
Alongside the explosive growth of commercial video conferencing services like Zoom, proprietary healthcare-focused video conferencing platforms have gained traction in recent weeks. These services encompass healthcare concerns such as HIPAA compliance and patient confidentiality by ensuring all communications are end-to-end encrypted. These security considerations can preclude them from offering accessibility features such as PSTN dial-in for their calls, unless they choose to work with a telephony provider who operates a fully-owned, private network.
Secure and reliable voice calling is central to patient communications
While doctor-patient consultations largely take place over video conferencing platforms, large portions of patient communication in telehealth occur via traditional voice calling. This is a sub-optimal solution for telemedicine providers, in that the public switched telephone network (PSTN) limits scalability and configurability. As a result of these limitations, telehealth providers are increasingly migrating from traditional PSTN-based telephony to enterprise SIP trunking providers like Telnyx. This gives them greater control over their phone systems, allowing them to better track and control calls for their internal records, and allows their telephony to integrate seamlessly with their electronic health record (EHR) infrastructure. SIP trunking also offers enhanced reliability and disaster recovery compared to traditional telephony.
The rapid growth in telehealth users highlights another important feature of SIP trunking: scalability. With an elastic SIP trunking system, telehealth providers can instantly add capacity to their phone lines exactly when they need it, without physically adding new phone lines. This has the potential to save telehealth providers huge sums of money in infrastructure costs, but even more importantly, allows them to scale with agility and meet the needs of their expanding user base.
From a security standpoint, not all SIP trunking providers are created equal. According to HIPAA regulations, telemedicine providers must ensure that the “confidentiality, integrity and availability” of their customers’ protected health information (PHI) is not compromised. As PHI is routinely shared over phone or video communications in telehealth applications, it’s critical for healthcare providers to closely examine the infrastructure and security of the network which will be carrying your sensitive communications traffic. Many of the most popular SIP trunk providers route your calls over the public internet, where it’s susceptible to intercept attacks and packet loss. Telnyx built its SIP trunking offering on a private, global, purpose-built IP network, and offers end-to-end encryption options so that your traffic is secure.
HIPAA-compliant SMS can streamline patient experience
The aforementioned HIPAA regulations consider patient telephone numbers to be protected health information (PHI), meaning any interaction with patients by phone can be considered to contain PHI and should be protected as such. This causes many telemedicine providers to avoid using SMS to communicate with their customers, but in reality there are plenty of ways to build HIPAA-compliant SMS communications for healthcare.
This is an important distinction to make, as leveraging SMS for patient communications in telemedicine has huge benefits. Providers can send automated and interactive appointment reminders to patients, communicate after-care instructions, capture patient feedback, streamline prescription refills, improve accessibility of healthcare education and even recruit subjects for clinical trials using SMS. These applications, combined with the high open rates associated with SMS communications, make it a must-have feature for any telemedicine provider.
In an uncertain world, telehealth has emerged as a unique and life-saving application of modern communications technology. Even after the COVID-19 pandemic subsides, the healthcare industry will have a greater focus than ever on leveraging telemedicine platforms to enhance efficiency and patient outcomes. In turn, telehealth companies should build their offerings on a communications platform that was built from the ground up with security, scalability and innovation in mind.
If you’re a telehealth provider and you’re curious about how you can leverage Telnyx to better serve your customers, get in touch with our sales team via our dedicated COVID-19 response form.
HIPAA § 164.306, Pt. 164 45 CFR Subtitle A
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