Telehealth for Breastfeeding Families During COVID-19 Pandemic
by Anne Eglash MD, IBCLC, FABM
Let’s face it, breastfeeding problems are often urgent. We know that mothers who are unable to breastfeed due to a number of problems, such as pain or infant latch difficulties, are more likely to wean prematurely if they need to rely on exclusive pumping.
Several studies have already documented the positive impact of telehealth support for breastfeeding dyads. During the COVID-19 pandemic, many of us are using primarily digital (social media, electronic health record messaging, email) and telephonic means to counsel and manage breastfeeding families, in order to avert face-to-face visits. Obviously not all breastfeeding problems can be adequately addressed using telehealth technology, and ideally breastfeeding families will be able to find someone in their community for face-to-face help when an exam is necessary.
Lactation consultants and breastfeeding medicine providers who are providing billable services for families are typically required to use communication tools that are HIPAA compliant, in order to preserve the privacy and security of personal health information. Unfortunately, many physicians and lactation consultants did not have formal telehealth programs in place at the onset of this pandemic, so are searching for ways to connect with their patients in a safe, acceptable manner.
The Office for Civil Rights, within the United States Department of Health and Human Services, published a notification in March 2020 that relaxed the requirements for the use of HIPAA-approved online communication tools for use of telemedicine during the COVID-19 pandemic. In order to facilitate optimal medical care, they are not penalizing providers subject to the HIPAA rules if they use private audio or video communication technology to provide telehealth, as long as the communication tools are not public-facing.
- Google Hangout
- Facebook Live
See the Answer
No abstract, see the full notification here.
Tiktok and Facebook live are public, so do not fall under this notification that allows non-HIPAA approved private applications to be used. Other public forums such as YouTube and Twitch should not be used for providing medical care to individuals.
For health care providers who are seeking privacy protections thru technology vendors, several companies will enter into HIPAA business associate agreements. The Office for Civil Rights lists the following: Skype for Business, Updox, VSee, Zoom/Zoom for Healthcare, Doxy.me, Google G Suite Hangout Meet, Cisco Webex Meetings/Webex Teams, GoToMeeting, and Amazon Chime.