Edition 1: COVID-19

During COVID-19 and beyond, healthcare delivery and telehealth requires a platform approach

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    Steve Pugh, Twilio Chief Security Officer
  • Feb 24, 2021

Steve Pugh, Twilio’s chief security officer, discusses critical considerations for security and telehealth, what providers and patients need to know, and why a platform approach is best.

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Telehealth is not new.

The ability for patients and providers to engage digitally, via video and voice calls, for advice, reminders, education, intervention, monitoring, and remote admissions has been around for decades, in fact. There’s even evidence of doctors proposing phone visits to cut down on in-person ones as far back as the 1870s.

That said, my guess is 2020 is the first time many of us have been exposed to this care modality. COVID-19 accelerated a lot of things, and in healthcare, telehealth went into overdrive.

Providers all over the world, practically overnight, realized they needed a way to communicate with patients and prospective patients without crowding their waiting and exam rooms. A practice that was once on the fringes suddenly hit the spotlight—and most experts don’t expect it to go away any time soon.

Telehealth is a powerful, large part of today’s evolving healthcare landscape, and for many—patients and providers alike—that’s a good thing. It aligns with the great digital acceleration we’re seeing across all industries, and gives patients the opportunity to engage more fully in a more transparent, easier, integrated care model focused on patient engagement.

That’s all good news… but now let’s backtrack a little.

When COVID-19 hit, many providers responded to the temporary lifting of sanctions, done to allow “good faith” efforts by providers to reach patients on an emergent basis. As they scrambled to meet patient demand and engage digitally, some less-than-ideal solutions were rolled out and distributed across large swaths of the patient population.

As easy as it might be, FaceTiming with your doctor isn’t the best way to get the care you need.

Quickly spun-up solutions relying on noncompliant or edge software could have security holes, a lack of options for new features, and plenty of other downsides. They also may put privacy at risk, compromising Patient Health Information (PHI), with fraud and data breaches growing across the healthcare system.

As patients become more and more accustomed to this new care model, they’re starting to expect the same self-service options and seamless convenience they enjoy in other areas of their lives. Off the shelf, non-purpose-built solutions can be limited in that way, and lack that sort of flexibility and modern experience patients expect.

Bad actors, too, are everywhere: security alerts and fraud instances related to telehealth are rising fast, and data theft is a huge concern no provider can afford to ignore.

It’s hard to scale, evolve, and ensure safety when you don’t have the time or space to plan for the future. That’s why I advocate for a platform approach to healthcare delivery and telehealth.

Benefits of a platform approach

For some providers, a piecemeal approach or bandaid solution was the best option at the time; they needed to talk to patients immediately but couldn’t risk in-person visits, especially at the start of the pandemic when conflicting information and unclear safety recommendations were flying everywhere.

They’d layer a video provider on top of their patient management system, or even green light video calls with patients via private phones.

The problem with that is multifold:

  • It doesn’t scale.
  • It’s not secure.
  • It’s limited in scope and customization.

A platform approach, on the other hand, meets all those demands and more. By relying on a complete patient engagement platform, particularly one with options for a variety of industries, not just healthcare, providers can ensure safety and security is woven throughout the entire experience, end-to-end. 

When you take ad-hoc products and try to put them together with best-effort compliance and security practices on a few parts of your patient engagement strategy, you’re bound to miss something. The ubiquitous Zoom example is well known for a reason: this video conferencing software exploded when COVID-19 hit, but so did Zoombombing attacks and security threats—so much so, that for 90 days in the spring, Zoom diverted all of its engineering power away from feature creation and other priorities to focus just on security.

Patching together a solution can create seams in the products, and that is a prime location for hackers to take advantage. To the extent you can leverage a platform with a full-suite of security by design, you’ll be in a much better position for security, and with an added bonus of delighting your customers through an exceptional engagement experience. A platform approach ensures security is integrated at every step of the patient-provider journey.

Platforms are also inherently built to scale with you as you grow. Hitting video call ceilings or limits on your minutes is a major hassle that hinders patient care and takes time and energy to resolve. With a globally-connected platform, downtime isn’t a concern, and limits are discussed at the outset, instead of turning into a hair-on-fire problem that damages patient and provider trust.

When you choose a multi-industry platform to provide telehealth functionality, you also get the added benefit of all the options and features that come standard for other use cases, and the agility to implement them quickly. 

It’s critical to ensure patient health data is kept secure and you meet all required safety standards, but so long as that’s accounted for, a platform lets you layer in other communication features—SMS reminders, email, appointment-making, billing options, and much more—far more easily than if you had to find a separate point solution.

Trust is your goal

Perhaps most important, though, is that when you build your patient engagement solutions and communication strategies with security and scalability in mind, you create and nurture trust with your patients.

Trust is the foundation of all your patient/provider relationships. A platform approach to healthcare delivery not only ensures future success and safety; it fosters trust and gives healthcare providers the ability to better serve more patients.

Twilio for Healthcare

Learn more about how to better serve and grow your patient base with Twilio’s solutions for healthcare.

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Steve Pugh, Twilio Chief Security Officer

Steve is the former chief information security officer of the White House Military Office and has 20+ years experience in cybersecurity, national security, and intelligence. Prior to joining Twilio, Steve was the chief information security officer for Ionic Security and has served under two Presidents as a military communications aide. He spent 16 years in the U.S. Air Force as a cyber warfare officer, and deployed in support of Operation Iraqi Freedom.