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Nutrition Informatics Blog

Tele-nutrition: Not Without Its Risks

(Consultation and Business , HITECH Areas for Involvement) Permanent link   All Posts

Comunication with others in a manner that is not face-to-face is becoming more and more the norm.   We even hear stories about family members at home together who text each other instead of walk up or down stairs to speak directly!    The realm of client counseling is moving in this direction as well.  More and more RDs and DTRs are jumping on the telemedicine bandwagon and using electronic media to counsel clients, or at least follow up an in-person visit with electronic communication.  There are many positive aspects to this, not to mention reduced travel costs considering the price of gasoline these days. 

Yet, there are many serious concerns that every RD or DTR who engages in the practice of tele-nutrition should be aware of.  Federal privacy laws require that you keep confidential patient information secure.  Penalties for violations are severe and should not be taken lightly.  I spoke to an RD recently who told me that she e-mails clients receipts after counseling them and these receipts include the client’s diagnostic codes.   How many times have you received spam e-mails from colleagues, even university professors, after they unsuspectingly introduced a virus into their system?  Some of these viruses take over your computer, copying your address book and accessing your files, and doing who-knows-what with all your information.

There are a few easy steps we can all take to help minimize risks.  Always update your anti-virus software daily.  Some systems have settings that make this happen automatically; others require you to initiate the process.  It only takes a few seconds.  Never open an attachment from an unfamiliar sender.  Don’t be fooled by ads that appear real and ask for personal information or warn you that your computer is at risk.  One of my co-workers fell for this, paid $60 for bogus software, then ended up having to have his computer rebuilt because of the destruction caused by what appeared to be a protective software program.  Other suggestions are simple, such as never leaving your desk without locking your computer screen.  If you have a wireless connection, use a secure one; WPA and WPA2 are much more secure than WEP.  Never e-mail confidential client information when in a hotel or airport where you’re notified during sign-on that it may be possible for others to see what you’re viewing.

Invest in a secure, encrypted e-mail messaging system that ensures that confidential client information is kept secure.  Know the laws in your state related to tele-nutrition, and if your clients are in other states, learn those states’ laws as well.  Things are changing fast as more and more healthcare practitioners use telemedicine, but as they say, ignorance of the law is no excuse.  Protect yourself, your business, and your clients by taking privacy and security issues seriously.


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