Health Information Security: Understanding HIPAA Requirements and Best Practices 

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Understanding HIPAA Requirements and Best Practices
Introduction 

HIPAA, or Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act (HIPAA) compliance is not a choice, but a necessity.  

HIPAA is a complete federal law that protects the privacy and security of patient health information. Effective since 1996, mobile apps handling protected health information (PHI) have been required to comply with it. This post is to give you a detailed look at the “why”, “how”, and “what” around HIPAA compliance for mobile apps, so you’re better informed about healthcare app development. 

HIPAA compliance

What is HIPAA? Why do mobile apps need to be HIPAA compliant? 

In short, HIPAA regulates the handling of PHI or Patient Health Information, which is any information that can identify an individual and relates to their physical or mental health. This applies to any organization providing medical services or delivering healthcare products, including hospitals, physicians’ offices, pharmacies, insurance companies and more.  

HIPAA: Security Requirements 

HIPAA Security Requirements 

One important leg of HIPAA compliance is security.  

>> By security, HIPAA means the security measures needed to ensure confidentiality and limited accessibility of data. This includes measures such as encrypted data transmission between devices and servers and strong authentication for user accounts.  

>> There must also be strict access control policies in place to allow only authorized personnel to view/ modify PHI data stored on the system.   

>> Finally, all the PHI data stored on your systems must be regularly backed up and monitored for potential security breaches or vulnerabilities.  

HIPAA: Privacy Requirements  

HIPAA: Privacy Requirements  

The second critical leg of HIPAA is privacy.  

>> This is to enforce the (a) collection of only strictly necessary patient data, (b) limiting the storage and usage of it, (c) minimizing its disclosure (i.e., sharing it only with authorized personnel), (d) mandating strict procedures for its disposal, and (e) offering patients access to their own records upon request, among other things.  

The tricky part about HIPAA is implementing encryption, password protection, and data backup methods without compromising the user/health provider experience. 

How can you make your healthcare app HIPAA-compliant? 

How can you make your healthcare app HIPAA compliant

To make your healthcare app HIPAA compliant: 

  1. Implement administrative, physical and technical safeguards to protect the confidentiality, integrity, and availability of protected health information (PHI). 
  2. Ensure all PHI is encrypted, both stored and in transit. 
  3. Strengthen access controls to limit the users having access to PHI. 
  4. Conduct regular risk assessments to identify + address potential security threats. 
  5. Train your employees with access to patient data on HIPAA regulations and the best practices around patient data security. 
  6. Devise a comprehensive, fail-proof disaster recovery plan. 
  7. Sign a Business Associate Agreement (BAA) with any third-party service providers handling PHI on your organization’s behalf. 
  8. Monitor + audit your app’s security measures to ensure HIPAA compliance. 

How to Develop a HIPAA-Compliant Mobile App: Best Practices 

How to Develop a HIPAA-Compliant Mobile App Best Practices  

 

Developing mobile applications that are compliant with the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act (HIPAA) requires a thorough understanding of the legal requirements and best practices associated with it, namely: 

  • Data Security Measures 

>> Encrypt all PHI before storage, and ensure its authentication with passwords or biometrics to prevent unauthorized access.  

>> Implement additional measures such as two-factor authentication and security policies on device usage.  

>> Consider where the data is stored and how access to it is controlled. Ideally, sensitive data must be stored in an offsite server or cloud storage system and not on the device itself.  

  • Privacy Policies and Terms of Service Agreements 

>> Ensure your privacy policies and terms of service agreements are clear and enforced properly. These documents must contain information about the collection, usage, and protection of user data, as well as information outlining any rights users may have related to it.  

>> Additionally, these documents should specify who has access to the user’s data and where it will be stored. Take care to ensure the confidentiality of user data. 

  • User Access Controls  

>> Set up permission levels within the app so only authorized users can view or edit certain types of information.  

>> Keep in mind that these access controls should remain in place even if an employee leaves or changes roles within the company to reduce the risk of unauthorized access or misuse of PHI by former employees or malicious actors.  

Conclusion

With increasing mobile app development demand and popularity comes the increasing need to strengthen data security and privacy. This is particularly valuable in healthcare, where compliance laws are not a passable option but a necessity. By inventorying these requirements and leveraging appropriate tools and resources such as those provided by experienced consultants and specialized software programs, your organization can confidently develop and deploy mobile apps without compromising existing patient privacy and security standards.