How to develop a HIPAA Compliant Mobile App

How to develop a HIPAA Compliant Mobile App

COVID-19 is more than just a buzzword for a peculiar and new virus that can sometimes be dangerous and even fatal. It has turned the world upside-down and changed its destiny. People around the world are all too familiar with the lockdowns and quarantines that it triggered. 

They have also adjusted with something unfortunate – more frequent layoffs. Employed people tend to have employer-sponsored health insurance. This is crucial since it’s impossible for people to predict when they will fall ill. They can go on HIPAA when they get laid off. 

However, going to HIPAA’s website can be cumbersome, especially when searching for another job. That has left many software developers wondering how they can build a HIPAA-compliant healthcare app!

Before delving into the many detailed steps that a healthcare app development company must complete to create HIPAA compliant apps it’s time to explain a few concepts. The first is, “What is HIPAA?”

If you are one of those people who lives in America and you have worked for someone else you are already familiar with HIPAA. It’s a different story if you live in another company but you want to hire health tech software developers to create HIPAA compliant apps.

What is HIPAA?

In a nutshell, HIPAA is an acronym for Heath Insurance Portability and Accountability Act. The American government passed and enacted it more than 25 years ago (in 1996 to be exact.) HIPAA was designed to protect crucial patient information from being leaked. This included insurance company and social security information. It was information that could ruin patients financially and in other ways, if it got into the wrong hands.

HIPAA required America’s federal government to create national standards that governed how sensitive patient information could be encrypted and transmitted securely. A key tenet of HIPAA was that transmission of information could not occur without prior patient knowledge and approval.

The HIPAA Act consists of a privacy rule that dictates how it (the HIPAA Act) is to be implemented. The Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) implemented the rule in 1996. 

The HIPAA privacy rule refers to patient sensitive information as, “protected health information.” It also defines healthcare organizations and insurance companies as covered entities and dictates how they can disclose and use this information.

One key feature of the privacy rule is its standards concerning “individuals rights.” The individual is the patient. Individuals are entitled to understand and control how healthcare organizations disclose and use their sensitive information. 

The whole point of the privacy rule is to ensure that patients can access quality healthcare services while resting assured that their sensitive information is being kept safe while being transmitted and used by certain healthcare entities.

Why comply with HIPAA?

You may be wondering why is HIPPA compliance important for healthcare organizations and different related entities? Entities that don’t follow HIPAA risk being fined and even sued.

How do you build a HIPPA compliant healthcare app?

If you guessed that developing a HIPAA compliant app consists of many detailed steps you are absolutely right! In case you were wondering, companies are starting to hire dedicated healthcare developers to create a HIPPA compliant app because most people (more than 60%) now access all information (including HIPPA information) on apps on their mobile devices.

  • The first step is to understand the type of information the HIPAA-compliant app will be storing and transmitting. There are currently two types of HIPPA-related information
    • Protected health information (PHI) – PHI includes a whole gamut of information. This includes:
      • Doctors bills
      • Health-related emails
      • Information from MRI scans
      • Lab work results

        Note that this is not an exhaustive list of information.
    • Consumer health information (CHI) – CHI includes data that any type of fitness tracker would record and transmit. It includes:
      • The number of calories you burn daily
      • Your daily blood pressure readings
      • How many minutes you exercise every day
      • Your heart rate

        This information must be protected since your doctor will ask you to send it to him or her as part of his or her efforts to create a daily health plan for you!
  • One of the most important features of HIPPA compliant apps is their ability to comply with four crucial HIPPA rules.
    • The Privacy Rule
    • The Security Rule
    • The Enforcement Rule
    • The Breach Notification Rule

NOTE:  Any app must comply with the security rule in order to achieve HIPAA compliance! The security rule pertains to certain technical and physical safeguards. A physical safeguard refers to steps to take to protect the encryption and transfer of sensitive data to actual mobile devices. It also protects these devices from breaches should they ever be lost or stolen.

NOTE: You can make sure that your HIPAA app has certain appropriate physical safeguards if you are a healthcare app development company by incorporating certain authentication features into it. Make your app function in such a way that it won’t be able to be used if certain information is not authenticated by the user. A great way of doing this is to use biometric data as an authentication feature.

NOTE:  Always design your memory card so that it erases any PHI after it has been used.

  • Any HIPAA compliant app must contain certain key technical safeguards. These are features and measures that ensure that all sensitive data is thoroughly encrypted before it is transmitted online. Some of these include:
    • Unique user identification
    • Emergency access procedures
    • Automatic log-off
  • Remember to build your app so that it only stores the appropriate amount of information for the time that it (the information) needs to be used.

The steps needed to build a HIPAA compliant healthcare app

Now that you know what standards and protocols your HIPAA compliant app must follow, it’s time to discuss the steps you need to take to ensure that your app has all of the appropriate features of HIPAA compliant applications.

  • Hire an expert – It may be tempting to consult Dr. Google to learn how to develop a HIPAA compliant app yourself, but DON’T DO THIS! You need to hire an expert with specialized knowledge if you’re an ordinary app entrepreneur. You need to have specialized knowledge to build these types of apps. Regular app entrepreneurs don’t have access to this! 
  • Make sure that you have all of the required patient information – It wouldn’t hurt to make sure that you actually need all of the information you have gathered on your patients either. Be sure to categorize your information into the two types of categories. You can figure out which PHI information should not be encrypted and transmitted online once you’ve done this.
  • Don’t reinvent the wheel – Believe it or not, you can find apps that are already HIPAA compliant. Don’t try to create one yourself unless you’re incredibly wealthy and have lots of money to spend on developing the features of HIPAA compliant applications from start. You’ll easily be spending at least $50,000 on developing the system, auditing it for errors, and obtaining the necessary certifications to run it.

    You can use Infrastructure as a Service (IaaS) to create your HIPAA compliant app.  In case you were wondering, IaaS consists of pre-fabricated infrastructure and solutions that you can ‘snap into place!’

    You can also use a third-party service like Amazon Web Services or True Vault to store and manage HIPAA PHI information and data. All you’ll need to do is sign a business agreement.
  • Make sure that all transmitted data is encrypted beforehand – Hackers are lurking everywhere online. Make sure that your app is never hacked into by encrypting all data you transmit beforehand. You must use several layers of encryption and authentication to do this properly.
  • Make sure that your app is secure before you use it – So you need to test your app to make sure that it really is HIPAA compliant. Make sure to test your app in many ways each time you update it. Have a professional tester verify that your app is genuinely HIPAA compliant!

Conclusion

You can make a lot of money developing a HIPAA compliant app. That said, you must follow certain standards and protocols to do so. You must also make sure that experts are designing your app. Remember, that there is no room for cutting corners when doing HIPAA compliant app development!

Summary – Many app entrepreneurs are trying to do HIPAA compliant app development. They need to have a complete understanding of HIPAA and the protocols, standards, and steps that they must follow in order to do so!

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