By Xano | December 10, 2021
If you are building a mobile application for the healthcare industry, HIPAA compliance is absolutely vital. HIPAA violations can land you in legal trouble, damage your company's reputation, and cause stress to patients whose information was leaked.
Passed in 1996, the The Health Insurance Portability Accountability Act (HIPAA) strives to keep sensitive medical information private. In recent years, as more and more health records have become completely or partially electronic, HIPAA has expanded to include many regulations regarding cybersecurity.
Below, we will provide a brief checklist of how to make sure your application is in compliance with current laws and regulations.
To ensure you are HIPAA compliant, you first need to get some background information on what HIPAA entails. To get you started, let's go over a few important terms you should know.
Covered entities are any entities that must legally comply with HIPAA and include health plans, health clearinghouses, and healthcare providers who electronically submit health information. Anyone who stores, maintains, collects, or transmits information on behalf of covered entities is considered a business associate and must therefore comply with HIPAA and provide a business associate agreement (BAA).
In other words, if your application is handling any kind of medical records, you are almost certainly subject to HIPAA regulations.
The Federal Trade Commission (FTC) provides a useful tool (which you can access here) that specifies which regulations apply to your business and application. Always use this tool to confirm HIPAA compliance. HIPAA is legally complicated and the below checklist is not definitive. Rules vary greatly depending on factors like your industry, the information you're handling, and so on.
PHI stands for protected health information. In short, this is basically any information regarding healthcare or payment for healthcare services. However, this includes more types of information than you might realize.
There are 18 identifiers of PHI:
First proposed in 1998, the HIPAA Security Rule became mandatory in 2006 and applies to any entity or individual with access to PHI. This includes IT and software vendors. If your mobile application stores PHI, HIPAA requires you have technical, administrative and physical safeguards in place to protect unauthorized access.
For technical safeguards, HIPAA requires:
It is also recommended that you introduce a mechanism to authenticate PHI that confirms whether health records have been accessed, tampered with, or destroyed by unauthorized users.
For administrative safeguards, HIPAA requires:
In addition to having the required administrative safeguards in place, you should also regularly test your contingency plan and have strict protocols for reporting security incidents.
For physical safeguards, HIPAA requires:
Facility Access Controls are also recommended. These control who has physical access to locations where PHI is stored and includes everyone from software engineers to janitorial staff.
Any information-collecting form that is filled out by a patient or client (e.g., medical insurance forms, patient information forms) must be encrypted to be HIPAA compliant. You also need to make sure your website is hosted by a company with knowledge of HIPAA compliance so that such forms are only transferred to HIPAA-compliant servers.
Remember, any information that contains one of the 18 qualifications of PHI must be encrypted. Always err on the side of caution. Even if a patient is filling out something as simple as a form regarding on-site parking, this could potentially include PHI identifiers and should therefore be HIPAA compliant.
We have touched on this a bit above while discussing proper safeguards. In short, you want to be 100% certain that your application is secure and unauthorized users or cybercriminals cannot access PHI.
Both dynamic and static testing are necessary before rolling out your application to ensure there are no vulnerabilities. You should also run these tests after every single update. It is highly recommended you hire a third party to do a penetration test as well.
Validating your security regularly is vital to HIPAA compliance. If there is a security breach due to an overlooked vulnerability, your company could face legal ramifications.
You've done your due diligence and think you've been careful in following every single HIPAA protocol. Congratulations. However, you should always get confirmation from an experienced third-party expert and/or an attorney that your application meets all the legal requirements for HIPAA compliance.
As we touched on earlier, HIPAA is complicated and what constitutes compliance varies greatly from application to application. Even the most conscientious developers may inadvertently miss a step or overlook a security vulnerability. This is why evaluation from an objective third party is vital to ensuring compliance.
Ensuring HIPAA compliance takes a lot of work, but it is a vital part of creating any application that handles medical information. Not only does compliance protect your company from legal penalties, it is simply the right thing to do. Everyone has a right to privacy when it comes to their medical history and HIPAA was designed to keep sensitive information safe and secure.
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