3 reasons to avoid Skype for telehealth

 3 reasons why you should avoid Skype for telehealthIs Skype safe for a clinical consultation? In June last year, the Royal Australian College of General Practitioners said in their publication RACGP advice on Skype: “There is currently no clear evidence to suggest that Skype is unsuitable for clinical use”.

This year however, new information came to light suggesting that Skype, owned by Microsoft, may not be as safe as we thought. Here are three reasons why you should be careful to use Skype as a professional video conferencing tool:

  • Skype is not encrypted from end-to-end. Microsoft can intercept information transmitted via Skype.
  • Skype tells the world where users are by exposing IP addresses. This allows criminals to target cyber attacks.
  • The US National Security Agency (NSA) can listen in and watch Skype chats with their data collection program Prism.

Interestingly, Skype’s privacy policy states:

Skype is committed to respecting your privacy and the confidentiality of your personal data, traffic data and communications content.

But this, it seems, needs to be taken with a pinch of salt. The Guardian reported that Microsoft “worked with the FBI this year to allow the NSA easier access via Prism to its cloud storage service SkyDrive, which now has more than 250 million users worldwide.”

The big question of course is: If US government agencies are listening in on our video chats, what other governments and organisations are collecting our online data?

Thanks to Paul Waite for providing background information for this post.

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8 thoughts on “3 reasons to avoid Skype for telehealth

  1. For Skype Users, review your history, it will show you what Skype/MS are keeping as part of their data collection on you and your contacts. You can can even go back to the beginning of time.

    To do so, Highlight a Contact >> Conversation >> View Old Messages >> From Beginning.

    Not only does it keep track of your calls, it tracks all your instant messages, uploads and files received.

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  2. Look, I hear you. But does PRISM really want to listen in on Mr X’s telehealth consult with the urologist about his Gleason score and planned prostatectomy?

    Yes health consultations should be confidential. But I am mindful that in a busy ED, seeing perhaps 80,000 patients p year, these same consults occur behind a flimsy curtain and are audible for all to hear…”I’m just going to stick a gloved finger in your anus” – “How many sexual partners have you had?” – “this vaginal discharge – when did it start?”

    I mean, it’s not as if health care in ED is confidential, is it?

    Meanwhile we’ve gor old ladies laying on trolleys in corridors waiting for inpatient beds, having to be toiletted in full view of the ED…and young men having their psychosis managed by Code Blacks in the waiting room.

    Concerns about Skype confidentiality are real…but pale into insignificance when compared to the everyday breaches of confidentiality occurring in our tertiary EDs as a result of overcrowding and systems failure – not enough inpatient beds.

    Thoughts?

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    • Skype is free & universal but not a professional grade product. There are better products and eventually regions or perhaps states have to agree on one tool, like in eg Canada. The public health system in WA uses a professional telehealth tool but GPs are not (yet) invited.

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  3. Thanks Edwin.

    My current practice uses Vidyo rather than Skype for mainly security reasons, as I understand it. It cost a heck of a lot more though.

    Whilst in theory I agree with reservations regarding Skype’s potential security flaws, at the pointy end of things I have to agree with Tim – there’s only so many dollars out there to be spent, and I’m not convinced that encrypted telehealth consults are that high up on the list.

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  4. I completely agree with your point, Edwyn. I am always very skeptical about using third party software, and its use for health matters is an even more delicate issue. The very least health providers must do is explain to the patient about it, so that the patient can make an informed decision.

    Cheap/free is not always good, and health providers must ensure confidentiality at all stages.

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