StarNavi Blog - A Comprehensive Guide to HIPAA Compliant App Development

By starnavi | Development | December 2020 | 427 views

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Over the years, the healthcare industry leaned towards becoming more consumer-centric. They further their efforts on improving the procurement of delivery and medical supplies as well as streamlined services. These improvements resulted in more companies extending medical services beyond the traditional setting of hospitals and clinics. Leveraging technology allowed them to attend to the increasing needs of physicians, nurses, and patients.

Technology plays a fundamental role in supplementing innovative solutions in medicine and business. Software and app development provided access to a comprehensive database of patient information. Most healthcare apps feature secured encryption for the protected configuration of medical data across networks of servers and devices. This encryption allows the key personnel to manage such data without compromising the safety of the patients.

Before healthcare providers can run these applications, they should make sure the apps are HIPAA-compliant. The healthcare field should prioritize HIPAA-Compliant app development to prevent any legal ramifications. After all, understanding the importance of such mandatory policies can determine whether these applications can survive the healthcare industry’s demands.

What is the HIPAA act?

The Health Insurance Portability And Accountability Act (HIPAA) refers to the legislation that articulates provisions regarding medical patients’ data privacy and security. Former president Bill Clinton eventually signed the HIPAA act into law in 1996. This law emerged amidst the prominence of health data breaches in recent years to push the initiative of keeping patient medical information safe. The healthcare industry was distraught after receiving cyberattacks and ransomware attacks that leaked all patient data.

The HIPAA act has two primary objectives:

  • Cover health insurance of citizens that either lost their job or transitioned to a new role.

  • Reduce healthcare costs through a standardized electronic transmission of both administrative and financial transactions.

The HIPAA act also strives to combat any form of abuse and fraudulent activities in health care and insurance providers. Ultimately, their regulatory efforts intend to improve access to health care and insurance all over the country.

Why a Violation Will Cost You a Fortune

Healthcare businesses and organizations are bound to pay a significant amount of money for making a HIPAA violation. A single HIPAA violation can cost a fortune, considering that it covers two different entities. First, the Breach Notification Rule states that violators should notify the patients with jeopardized data. Telling them costs a sum of money on top of the fines you are required to pay. The Office of Civil Rights (OCR) will perform the auditing to monitor the HIPAA violation’s equivalent penalties. Healthcare providers that are not HIPAA compliant may face criminal charges depending on the degree of negligence.

Any business that wishes to develop HIPAA-compliant apps undergoes training programs to prevent the risk of regulatory actions. Although there are no officially certified programs to conduct the training, companies like StarNavi provide HIPAA assistance. They provide the organizations with complete credentials for the guidelines and policies according to the HIPAA.

Who has to be HIPAA Compliant?

The policies of the HIPAA act are applicable across different entities of the healthcare industry. It aims to ensure that these organizations transmit protected health information (PHI) in electronic form. The electronic-protected health information (e-PHI) streamlines the administrative and financial transactions without compromising data privacy.

Here are the healthcare entities that are required to be HIPAA compliant:

Healthcare Providers

These consist of hospitals, clinics, regional health services, and individual medical practitioners that provide primary care to patients. HIPAA requires them to perform any transaction using an electronic form.

Healthcare Plans

The healthcare plans involve the insurance policies, HMOs, Medicaid, Medicare prescription drug card sponsors, flexible spending accounts, and public health authorities. Employers, universities, and insurance providers should collect and transact using the e-PHI, which protects the patients and insurance enrollees against data breaches when subject to healthcare plans.

Healthcare Clearinghouses

Healthcare clearinghouses refer to the entities that process nonstandard health information. They manage a massive database of medical information while following the administrative standards of the HIPAA.

Healthcare Business Associates

Healthcare business associates make up the private sector providers to third-party administrators. HIPAA requires these entities to follow their standards before commencing their business operations.

How Do You Make HIPAA Compliant Mobile Apps?

HIPAA-compliant app development is vital to prevent identity theft, fraud, and blackmail while navigating healthcare applications. Businesses should observe full compliance to ensure patient safety and avoid hefty fines.

Here are three prominent safeguards to consider when developing a HIPAA-compliant app:

Technical Safeguards

Technical safeguards involve the technological aspect of app development. Healthcare software follows a specific standard to protect and control access to confidential medical information. ePHI information should always be encrypted, whether it is at rest or in transit, and when it passes beyond the company’s servers. Ensuring ePHI encryption reduces the chances of getting data breaches. Encrypted data cannot be accessed, decoded, and retrieved by unauthorized users and intruders.

There are different ways to implement encryption within an app, including the following:

Augmenting Access Controls

Access controls are the security standard to prevent hackers from bypassing confidential data. Systems that store the PHIs must limit the users that can view or modify information. Developers can implement access controls through the following ways:

  1. Implementing a unique user ID

Developers should implement a user identification that no one else knows. Instead of utilizing email addresses, have the users input their username when creating an account. No one but the user should know it to prevent any fraudulent acts. In this way, you can monitor the activity of the people that have access to your app.

  1. Emergency Access

When unprecedented events happen in which systems cannot operate due to calamities or other emergencies, you should provide an alternative entity for users. This provision allows them to continue accessing their ePHI despite the current condition of the system.

Audit controls and Activity Logs

Audit controls are composed of the hardware, software, and mechanisms that the developer needs to incorporate to run the app. Components of the healthcare app should have functionalities that monitor the activity logs within the system. HIPAA requires developers to store activity logs in an easily readable format. This transparency allows you to track any unauthorized access to the ePHI of the users.

HIPAA may not specify which data you need to collect. Its guidelines also provide unclear instruction on the frequency of audit control procedures. However, HIPAA recommends businesses to conduct their risk assessment to define suitable app features. As early as the app development stages, its technical infrastructure should possess audit control mechanisms.

Addressable Technical Safeguards

The addressable technical safeguards are the app features that provide an additional layer of protection. These safeguards include the following:

  • ePHI authentication

  • Encryption and decryption functionalities

  • A feature that lets automatically logs off users of computers and devices

Physical Safeguards

Besides digital and administrative aspects, industries must protect all physical locations and hardware. From the workstation to devices, including servers, data centers, desktops, and laptops, these ensure app security. Businesses must prompt authentication before anyone can access the application. You can utilize passwords or fingerprint authentication to ensure safety.

Physical safeguard procedures ensure that your device cannot fall into the wrong hands. In case of unauthorized access, here are steps you can consider:

Utilizing Allocated Workspace

To prevent any slip-ups, establish policies that limit the use of workspaces that have direct access to the ePHI. You must maintain strict implantation of these policies must be followed to avoid any issues. Surveillance systems such as CCTVs as well as door and window locks can provide you peace of mind in storing servers that hold confidential data.

Smartphone Use

Users with access to navigate ePHIs using their smartphones should follow the company’s standard operating procedure. For instance, businesses have to ensure that the employee has cleared all ePHI data from mobile devices once they resign.

Addressable Physical Safeguards

The addressable physical safeguards are additional procedures that extend the regulatory measures to maintain HIPAA compliance. These measures include facility access controls and hardware inventories, recording the location of every data.

Administrative Safeguards

Administrative safeguards cover different policies and procedures to implement security measures that protect the user ePHI. Businesses are required to establish practices for data protection and management of the workforce to implement such practices. Administrative safeguards get implemented in the following ways:

Performing Risk Assessments

The security officer of your business should be able to carry out risk assessments regularly. The risk assessment reveals the potential issues that may arise in the future that may lead to data breaches. On top of that, the evaluation would define the use of ePHI to be HIPAA compliant sanctions that fail to observe the proper HIPAA standards.

Developing a Contingency Plan

A contingency plan aims to protect the integrity of user medical information. It also defines the steps that you need to take when the worst-case scenario breaks loose.

Managing Third-party Access

Industries must regulate third-party access to avoid ePHI from getting into the hands of unauthorized parent companies and subcontractors. Further actions involving ePHI, such as signing agreements, must be controlled and monitored.

Addressable Administrative Safeguards

For further addressable administrative safeguards, businesses must make an effort to train their teams. They should have a clear understanding of the precautionary measures to take to prevent any form of breach. From identifying the signs of a cyber attack, testing the contingency plan, to becoming transparent with security incidents, employees must be well-prepared for the worst.

What are the Steps to Making a HIPAA Compliant App?

Here is a step-by-step guide on how to develop a HIPAA-compliant app:

  1. Transport Encryption

Before transporting the ePHI beyond the network or server, make sure that it is encrypted.

  1. Backup

In case of emergencies, you should be able to provide a back-up copy of the ePHI.

  1. Authorization

Only authorized employees should have access to the ePHI. They are the ones who can transfer and make modifications.

  1. Integrity

ePHI is not subject to unsanctioned changes.

  1. Storage Encryption

ePHI should still be encrypted even if it is inactive and not in transmission.

  1. Disposal

Businesses are required to safely and permanently dispose of the ePHI when it no longer serves its purpose.

Conclusion 

HIPAA-compliant apps promote user data protection safety, which is imperative in the healthcare industry. When businesses fail to observe the HIPAA standards, they receive fines and can even end up with criminal charges. Therefore, HIPAA compliance isn’t merely a safety protocol but a mandated requirement.

HIPAA app development requires a significant amount of time, money, and effort. Before you begin running the app, there is still more to do. Starnavi aims to help organizations in the healthcare industry with HIPAA compliance and app development. Contact us today and launch your healthcare application in no time.