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HIPAA Compliant Apps: How To Make An App HIPAA Compliant?

Posted in HIPAA

Last Updated | December 14, 2021

Overview

The healthcare industry is booming, new health apps are being developed every other day. These health apps collect, store, and share a user’s Protected Health Information (PHI). While handling a user’s PHI is a challenge in itself, there are strict laws that govern the receiving and sharing of data. 

The most notable law in healthcare is HIPAA (Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act) legislation that holds significant importance. Any vendor willing to develop health-related software solutions for the US market must comply with HIPAA standards. Following HIPAA standards ensures the software that stores patient health data does not disclose it without the patient’s consent. In order to comply HIPAA standards, some of the popular healthcare data integration companies and other organizations, including Cerner an electronic health records software company and Scopic a medical imaging software company have understood what HIPAA compliance for software development is and ensure all of their developed applications comply with HIPAA.

So, what is HIPAA compliance for apps, and what do telemedicine software companies and medical software development services do to achieve it? 

To get answers to these questions, continue reading:

How Do I Make An App HIPAA Compliant?

To make medical apps HIPAA-compliant, you must know that these apps should be built with interactive medical app UI design for users to easily navigate and include security features. If an app is not HIPAA-compliant, here are a few things you can do to make it HIPAA-compliant:

Find An Expert Consultant

If you are new to healthcare software development, you must not attempt to meet HIPAA standards in isolation. It is always better to hire an expert consultant for consultation and audit. Another alternative is to outsource the task. You can connect to an experienced team to outsource the task of making an app HIPAA compliant. Then, all you need to do is instruct the team on what you want; an expert consultation team will do the rest of the job.

Evaluate Patient Data

The data you collect from patients needs evaluation. You must ensure you need all the data you receive from patients. In other words, do not collect data that you do not need. 

Then you can figure out which data will be categorized as Protected Health Information (PHI). Once figured out, see what PHI you can avoid storing or sharing through your mobile app if it is against HIPAA. 

Find Third-Party HIPAA Compliant Solutions

Making a HIPAA-compliant app from scratch is costly, and if you aim to do that, you will have to be ready to spend a lot of capital. 

However, the better way to save time, money, and resources is to find an established HIPAA-compliant infrastructure or solution. It is called IAAS (Infrastructure as a service). 

You can use the third-party service for storing and handling data, but for that, you need to make a business associate agreement with them. Also, before you make an agreement, make sure they are reliable. 

Encrypt All Stored and Transferred Data

If an app stores and shares PHI, it must use security best practices to encrypt it. It is essential to use more than one level of encryption to ensure there are no breaches. Once you have encrypted data, take great care to keep it secure from being stolen by other devices.

Test and Maintain App Security  

Testing software is of utmost significance. You need to test your app every time you update it. Make sure to consult an expert who can help you test your app statically and dynamically and ensure the app is up-to-date. On the other hand, maintenance is a continuous process you need to perform to keep your app secure and updated. 

The security and the tools, libraries, and frameworks used for building apps are constantly updated. So, once you have made the app HIPAA-compliant, you must also update the tools and frameworks; otherwise, security breaches are more likely to occur.

How Much Does It Cost To Build A HIPAA-Compliant App?

The overall cost to build a HIPAA-compliant app varies depending on different factors such as the duration of the development, development rate, complexity of the product, technology stack, team size, and more. The more features the app will have, the more complex it is to develop, hence the costs also multiply. 

For a fully-featured app to be HIPAA-compliant, the average cost may be around $50,000. This cost includes the complete development of the application system that also fulfils all technical and physical security requirements. For small covered entities (hospitals, doctors, clinics, insurance companies, etc.), the cost of HIPAA-compliant app development is somewhere around $4,000 to $12,000. 

This cost covers risk management, management plan, remediation, training, and policy development expenses. For a middle-sized or large covered entity, the cost may be about $50,000 and above. 

Another possible cost for building a healthcare app is around $23,333, however, it is likely to go as low as $5,000 and as high as $40,000.

As aforesaid, the development of an all-in-one HIPAA-compliant app costs high. So, a HIPAA-compliant app with fewer features is more affordable to build than an application that includes all functionalities.

Does HIPAA Apply To Mobile Apps?

The health apps that require the users to enter their information do not necessarily have to be HIPAA-compliant. For example, a fitness tracking application requires the end-users to enter their information through their devices such as a blood pressure machine, and track their height, weight, and medical background. It does not need to comply with HIPAA as long as the information only remains accessible to that particular user.

In another case, an app that is developed for covered entities (health care providers, health plan providers, or healthcare clearing-houses) to use as a service provided for patients to collect and keep track of their health data involves sharing PHI. Since it involves the role of covered entities, the HIPAA law applies to it. 

For example, a medical insurance provider has an app developed for consumers to track the status of their claims and coverage details. The information collected by the app will directly be in the control of the provider, which means it falls under the umbrella of HIPAA. 

Simply put, HIPAA security and privacy laws are applicable to all health apps that store a user’s health data and are also accessible to individuals other than the owner of the data. 

What Is A HIPAA-Compliant App?

A HIPAA-compliant app complies with the HIPAA rule and regulations. HIPAA compliance involves the necessary security and implementation specifications for software systems to address and ensure the security and privacy of electronically protected health information (ePHI).

As security threats and big data breaches continue to occur, the development of HIPAA-compliant apps is being more focused. The concerned businesses need to take great measures to protect health information. HIPAA compliant apps include some special security features. Listed below are those features:

User Identification

HIPAA-compliant apps have the user identification feature. For security, health apps require confirmation of user identification for every new session. App developers ensure to add user identity features in applications to control the integrity of their network and prevent the interchange of patient confidential data.

Data Encryption

Since health data is of critical nature, it is important to employ a multilayered security approach that prevents unauthorized access to it. HIPAA-compliant apps ensure patient health data to be encrypted through their data encryption feature. Though encryption is a significant part of preventing data breaches, it is just a single layer. 

Emergency Access

The ability to connect patients to their care team, including an emergency contact number, is a must-have feature for HIPAA-compliant apps. Therefore, these apps incorporate a feature to let a patient easily have emergency access to the provider.

How Do You Know If An App Is HIPAA Compliant?

To know if an app is HIPAA-compliant, it is essential to go through its security mechanisms and privacy terms. Learning about how an application works and what security measures it takes is helpful to understand if it has achieved compliance with HIPAA. 

Another step to figuring out the compliance of an application with HIPAA is testing. Through testing, you can assess if the app has any vulnerabilities that can result in a data breach. If you have a custom-built app, it is hard to check if it complies with HIPAA regulations. Since customized apps are only used by particular organizations, they may not be tested or well documented. 

Therefore, they need special security tests and audits by a professional. A professional compliance consultant can help you understand if a custom-built app is HIPAA-compliant.

As for the pre-built apps, it is relatively easy to know if they are HIPAA-compliant. You can find these third-party developed apps in the market. Since many organizations use them, they are often tested and contain compliance claims. So, you can easily audit them and obtain their compliance documentation. 

Are Health Apps Subject To HIPAA?

The answer to the question of whether health apps are subject to HIPAA or not- depends on the source of data and the purpose of its collection for the apps. 

HIPAA requires the healthcare entities to protect PHI which is defined as any information that a covered entity creates or receives and the information that relates to an individual’s health history as well as reflects an individual’s identity. So, any health app that uses such information is required to comply with HIPAA rules.

Mobile health (mHealth) apps that commercial vendors provide for individuals to use are not covered by HIPAA, since a vendor is not one of the covered entities or business associates. 

However, when a covered entity or business associate uses an app to receive a patient’s information, it is subject to HIPAA. The mHealth apps that covered entities use are required by HIPAA to build appropriate safeguards to keep a patient’s protected health information (PHI) secure.

Either way, HIPAA law requires healthcare applications to keep a patient’s data secure and not reveal it without their consent.

Can You Release Medical Information Over The Phone In The USA, UK, Canada & Australia?

US

In the US, patients are allowed to access and share their medical information on a smartphone without any cost. The insurers can also share the health claim data of patients with them through Medicare and Medicaid on the phones. For this, HIPAA law also includes mechanisms that allow PHI to be shared in a way that prevents or lessens a serious threat to the safety and health of an individual or public. 

UK

In the UK, the legal authorities are allowed to collect and release medical information on the phone. The data can only be shared once the patients give their consent. It means the release of their health data is still in their hands. If they express disapproval, their medical information is immediately stopped from being shared.

Canada

Canada also has multiple privacy laws around sharing sensitive medical data. It obliges healthcare sectors to consider patient privacy and guidelines to ensure compliance with laws. For example, when a patient’s health data is shared on phone, it must also include the consent of the patient to exchange it on a lawful basis. 

Moreover, Canada’s privacy laws make it clear that data sharing must be limited and proportionate to as much as it is required to be shared.

Australia

The Australian government does have laws that protect the personal information of people. In Australia, the medical information of a person is only allowed to be released when he/she permits it. Besides an individual’s permission, the medical data can be revealed on the phone when the law authorizes it. 

As long as the medical data of a person meets the standards of Australian Privacy Principles, it is the property of the relevant person and the government. In case, this data is needed to share, the first step is to get the consent of the person (to whom the data belongs).

 

FAQs:

Is IOS HIPAA-compliant?

Currently, Apple IOS does not address security or privacy requirements for HIPAA compliance. Therefore, it may be insecure and non-compliant.

Is texting patient information a HIPAA violation?

Typically, texting patient information is not a HIPAA violation. However, if the text message contains patient information that the patient gave no consent for sharing, it becomes a HIPAA violation to share it.

What makes a phone line HIPAA-compliant?

When organizations build their phone systems to process the information securely over the telephone, taking into account the physical and network security measures, their phone line becomes HIPAA-compliant.

Is Bluetooth HIPAA-compliant?

Bluetooth is a wireless network, and wireless networks are not encrypted. Despite having security controls, they may not be robust enough to safeguard HIPAA-covered data.

Is speakerphone a HIPAA violation?

A speakerphone is not a HIPAA-compliant feature, so it is better to avoid using it when referring to any private data. Otherwise, it can lead to a HIPAA violation.

What is HIPAA in healthcare operations?

HIPAA is a US legislation that has standards ensuring health data is kept safe and secure. It is enforced by the US Department of Health and Human Services, particularly, their Office for Civil Rights. It aims at protecting the exchange of sensitive data across the healthcare industry. 

HIPAA requires every healthcare provider to comply with its healthcare operations by ensuring the secure transmission of sensitive information. HIPAA security can be achieved with the help of healthcare compliance consulting firms to establish safety guards for data protection. 

What is Epic software?

Epic Software is a cloud-based EHR developed for healthcare organizations to handle their day-to-day tasks, including patient health records. Epic EHR incorporates the 10 components of medical records in a hospital so that hospitals and other practices can store all essential information of a patient on one platform.

What is the Epic System for Healthcare?

Epic System is a privately-held corporation in healthcare that provides software solutions. It is one of the largest healthcare solutions providers that mainly develop EHR systems with capabilities such as storing, receiving, and sharing medical data for large healthcare practices and hospitals. Moreover, like HL7 Integration, Epic also provides Epic Integration Services, including its EHR integration services that various practices use for connecting different systems and creating a seamless data-sharing network.

What is a Clinical Decision Support System – Benefits, Examples, And Tools?

A clinical decision support system is an interactive platform that helps clinicians by collecting data from various sources and making data-driven decisions to support their care delivery. 

Since it analyzes data to make decisions, it benefits in the following ways:

  • Reduces errors
  • Lowers the risk of misdiagnosis 
  • Improves the efficiency of clinicians
  • Delivers reliable and consistent information

Examples of A Clinical Decision Support System

Laboratory Information Systems

Pharmacy Information Systems

Conclusion

Applications that store and share an individual’s health data must comply with HIPAA to prevent data breaches. Achieving compliance with HIPAA can include costs similar to telemedicine software costs and telemedicine startup costs, but once you successfully make an app HIPAA-compliant, the costs are worth it. Compliance with HIPAA saves you from heavy fines that the law imposes. 

So, making an app HIPAA-compliant is not only essential to protect user data, but also to create an app that users can trust.

 

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