Telemedicine is taking the world by storm. Remote services, including healthcare, are a great alternative for those who are limited in time.
For this reason, apps and websites for providing medical services are gaining momentum right now. Besides the general steps involved in the development of mobile applications and sites, the one setting up such a tool should remember about HIPAA compliance.
As federal legislation, the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act of 1996 sets a strict set of guidelines for those involved in telemedicine. If you want to start a healthcare website, you should bear in mind many points, from necessary safeguards to possible issues.
This article will provide you with all the important information on how to make a HIPAA compliant website. Keep on reading to learn more about it.
A Quick Note About Basics of HIPAA Compliance and Website Development
The Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act of 1996, better known as HIPAA, is a United States federal law concerning the safety and security of medical information. According to this legislation, PHI, or protected health information, must be used, stored, and transferred properly to prevent data breaches and avoid violating patients’ privacy.
With the increasing popularity of telemedicine, HIPAA became relevant to anyone involved in the process of creating a remote healthcare tool, be it the doctor or the web development company. Websites offering patients’ medical services must have all the necessary features to ensure the security of PHI and ePHI (electronic protected health information).
What is PHI?
PHI is an abbreviation for protected health information, and this is the main asset when it comes to telemedicine. Under HIPAA, most of the information involved in the process of providing medical services is considered PHI.
Both physical and electronic records, as well as test results, healthcare bills, and even spoken information, are PHI and must be protected properly. Here is a full list of identifiers that add up to protected health information:
- Dates, except the year
- Telephone numbers
- Geographic data
- Fax numbers
- Social Security numbers
- Email addresses
- Medical record numbers
- Account numbers
- Health plan beneficiary numbers
- Certificate/license numbers
- Vehicle identifiers and serial numbers including license plates
- Web URLs
- Device identifiers and serial numbers
- Internet protocol addresses
- Full face photos and comparable images
- Biometric identifiers (i.e. retinal scan, fingerprints)
- Any unique identifying number or code
Also, it is important to remember which entities have access to protected health information.
There is a misconception that according to HIPAA, all health information equals PHI. However, this is not true, and it depends on who collects the data. For example, the heart rate recorded by a fitness tracker would not be considered PHI, as only medical information acquired by a healthcare provider would be.
HIPAA Compliance Rules
HIPAA compliance is regulated by four rules: Privacy, Security, Breach Notification, and Enforcement Rules. The first two are more well-known, but all of them must be kept in mind in the process of HIPAA compliant website development.
The Privacy Rule
It sets national standards for when PHI can be used and disclosed and outlines the patients’ rights regarding PHI. This rule applies to covered entities, which include health plans, healthcare clearinghouses, healthcare providers, and their business associates.
The Security Rule
It outlines the security measures, which covered entities and business associates should use to protect ePHI. The implemented safety solutions must ensure confidentiality, integrity, and availability of electronic protected health information and guard it against any outside threats.
The Breach Notification Rule
It requires covered entities to inform affected individuals, the U.S. Department of Health & Human Services (HHS), and sometimes the media if there was a PHI security breach or a data leak.
The Enforcement Rule
It covers penalties applied to companies that are found to be non-compliant and investigations related to such cases.
One of the main rules for healthcare providers, known as covered entities when talking about HIPAA compliance, is that they conclude a business associate agreement (BAA) with a reliable third party, whether a person or entity, which performs certain functions or activities that involve the use or disclosure of PHI on behalf of a covered entity.
When a BAA is in place, both the covered entity and the business associate become responsible and are required to use the measures necessary for protecting PHI. If this is not the case, there may be data breaches, and, of course, fines apply in such cases.
Considering the fact many medical service providers choose to create web and mobile apps for their patients, various safeguards are needed to make sure nothing happens to PHI. HIPAA compliant website design is an important requirement for telehealth, but at first, you should have a clear understanding of whether you have to comply with HIPAA.
Does Your Website Need to be HIPAA Compliant?
Before deciding whether to make your website HIPAA compliant, you should answer these three questions:
- Are you collecting PHI on your website?
- Are you communicating PHI through your website?
- Are you storing PHI on a server connected to your website?
If the answer to any of these is yes, then your website does have to be HIPAA compliant. To learn how to achieve that, pay attention to the list of safety features provided below.
How to Make a Website HIPAA Compliant?
HIPAA compliant hosting
To build a HIPAA compliant website, look for a secure host. Not only the site’s hosting provider must be reliable, but the healthcare company must also conclude a BAA with it. This is why only certain hostings will work for HIPAA compliant websites; you can read more on it here.
Getting an SSL certificate is an important step on the road to a HIPAA compliant website, as it implements encrypted communication. With such a certification, you’ll be sure that data transferred from the site to the server cannot be identified by anyone.
Make sure only authorized individuals can log in to your website. Some features to ensure that include two-factor authentication, regular password changes, and automatic log-off. Also, filtering out the amount of information an employee can access based on their seniority level is preferred.
Data should be not only transmitted but stored securely, too. Encrypting all the information sensitive information on your website is a must. Moreover, look at whether the local or cloud-based storage you’re using is safe.
PHI is very valuable, so losing it is obviously undesirable. This is why you should think about data backup, as it will prevent patients’ data loss.
Any data that is no longer needed for your website should be permanently deleted. This applies to any information about clients, employees, etc, who are no longer associated with your services. Also, if a patient requires your company to delete their records, it should be possible without any problems.
Data breach protocol
Unfortunately, even with the most secure system, there is always some chance a data breach may occur. If this happens, you should have a clear response protocol that will help to minimize the impact of a breach.
HIPAA compliance officer
It is highly beneficial to have a HIPAA specialist on board. This person will take note of any regulation changes, necessary updates, etc. Without such an officer, chances are you will miss new important information about HIPAA guidelines.
Published HIPAA policy
Finally, don’t forget to let users know about the fact your website is HIPAA compliant. This will increase their trust in your services.
As HIPAA is a federal law, it is best to look for additional information on it from a reliable source. Some of them are:
How Riseapps Introduces HIPAA Standards
Riseapps developers have experience in telehealth development and know how to make a website HIPAA compliant. One example of such a case is Kego, an online urgent care clinic.
We’ve built mobile apps for patients and doctors, as well as a web admin panel. Kego provides users with all the features of a great telemedicine tool while being secure. To maximize safety, we made a Django backend and deployed it in the cloud with the help of Amazon Web Services (AWS). This is an exemplary secure cloud environment, which also provides recommendations on how to make your website HIPAA compliant.
Developing a HIPAA compliant site is not an easy task. We followed several steps to follow the security guidelines and make a reliable product for our client. As mentioned above, an SSL certificate is very important for a telemedicine website. Kego has one, so all the data is transmitted using the HTTPS protocol.
A secure SDK was utilized in the development process to connect Stripe for in-app payments and Twilio for texts/calls. The latter is a certified Business Associate that can communicate PHI, so the process of signing a BAA is simplified. To make sure the security requirements for a BAA were followed by Kego, we used databases like PostgreSQL and S3 while creating the website and apps.
To sum up, it is crucial to prioritize user privacy and data protection in the process of HIPAA compliant site development. Only work with reliable third parties, make sure to sign BAAs with them, and always check the latest guideline updates to avoid possible issues.
Still not sure how to create a HIPAA compliant website? Our managers and web designers will help you with any questions you may have, be it what to start with, how much does it cost to develop a HIPAA compliant site, etc.
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