Entrepreneur’s Guide on How to Develop a HIPAA Compliant Mobile Application

HIPAA Compliant Mobile App Comprehensive Guide

With changing times, the healthcare organizations are also making the necessary changes in their modus operandi to ensure that they do not remain obsolete! One of those changes is adapting the digital environment. No business in the present scenario can afford to ignore the digital domain, and healthcare is no exception. The healthcare service providers are already experimenting and innovating with the digital realm.

More so, doctor appointment booking apps like Practo are making lives easier for both medical professionals as well as their patients.

But for anyone working with the medical app industry, complying with the HIPAA standards is essential. By complying with the HIPAA standards, you can make sure that your app follows the necessary protective safeguards ensuring the safety and security of patients’ data.

In the highly sensitive field of medicine, even a small mistake can lead to grave consequences. HIPAA guides the app developers and ensures that their app is secure, stonewalling future lawsuits and other troubles caused due to lapse in handling patient data.

There is still some confusion regarding HIPAA amongst the medical industry participants.

What is the HIPAA act OR Compliance?

HIPAA is the acronym for Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act, an act which was enacted in 1996 in the U.S.

HIPAA’s primary function is to ensure that there are no anomalies while handling and storing patient data. Apart from that, HIPAA also provides flawless handling and storage of patient data. Insurance coverage and simplification of administrative tasks is one of the major components of HIPAA.

It also covers aspects related to taxation in medical expenses. If you want to launch your mobile app in the United States, you will have to make sure that it is HIPAA compliant.

HIPAA VIOLATION PENALTIES

What do you need to know about HIPAA Compliance?

To make your app HIPAA compliant, you will need to ensure that it adheres to the privacy and security guidelines. Let us have a look at a few critical components of HIPAA.

PHI (Public Health Information)

PHI or the public health information guidelines are the guidelines that define how the patient’s data should be managed by every entity that operates under the purview of the HIPPA act.

Building a mobile app under the PHI is a bit complex, as with the PHI, you not only need to take care of the current and the past data but also ensure future data collection.

You need to take care of different types of information under the PHI. These classes of information include the physical as well as electronic records of data.

PHI data includes things like medical history, diagnosis, account balances, and prescriptions.

CHI (Consumer Health Information)

While PHI is protected and is typically considered more sensitive, CHI isn’t that sensitive. Your data that consists of the calories you burnt today or the number of steps you took comes under CHI’s purview. Data that you share with Fitbit or Google Health comes under CHI.

The significant difference between PHI & CHI is that CHI data is not sent to the covered entities. For instance, the other health-based applications like FitBit, Google Health, among others.

Note that the CHI data does not come under HIPAA compliance.

The following is a short list of information that comes under HIPAA.

  • Name of the patient
  • Address of the patient
  • Birthdate
  • Any medical care the person has received previously
  • The physical as well as the mental condition of the patient
  • Any personally identifiable information, including the one concerning the payment made by the individual

Why is HIPAA Important?

There are chances that patients’ personal data is sold on the dark web, the sinister place where all kinds of cybercriminals habitat. There is a high chance that all this data was siphoned off from an unsuspecting medical app.

Think about the consequences, both legal and moral, that the owners of this medical app will need to bear once it is discovered that their app was responsible for this data leak. With the advent of innovative technologies like the Internet of Medical Things, data leak points have multiplied.

In one such incident, the E-PHI data of around 33,500 individuals were leaked. The one responsible, in this case, was the MD Anderson cancer center in Texas.

A small mistake of failing to encrypt a few of its devices included a USB drive and a Laptop, cost MD Anderson center $4.3 million in lawsuits and a tarnished reputation. The glitch could have been avoided if the center had taken HIPAA compliance seriously and had encrypted all the devices.

Sometimes even brilliant people like the medical practitioners fail to realize that data security in this connected world is not as simple as locking your physical files in a locker and keeping the key safe. Hackers worldwide know the importance of health data and are always trying to steal this sensitive data.

The changing dynamics of the technology field are why you and your employees need to understand the implications of HIPAA compliance.

Essential things to ensure the safeguarding of data

The healthcare industry contains a plethora of sensitive data that is needed to be protected irrespective of whether you are developing a HIPAA compliant app.  Three basic things would ensure the safeguarding of the data related to the patients.

Physical safeguard looks into controlling the access of physical worksites where the ePHI is maintained or housed. It can be at the alarm system or the clocks.

Administrative safeguard: is related to the process to ensure that the entire workforce is following all the security standards without any loopholes. It consists of streamlining all the policies, documentation, and staff training and foresee the implementation of the security standards.

Technical safeguards: concern with the network infrastructure and cybersecurity. It includes malware protection, encryption, and firewalls.

Do you need to make your app HIPAA compliant?

Now the question arises whether you need to make your app HIPAA compliant or not. To understand this, ask a few questions to yourself.

  • Who is the intended user of the app?
  • Precisely what kind of information will the app handle?
  • Which are the encryption standards that you will be using?
  • Does your entity come under the purview of PHI?

If the app’s intended user is a patient who is undergoing medical care in a medical center, you will need a HIPAA Compliant Application. If the app handles sensitive information like the patient’s health like reading blood pressure and cardiac readings, your app must be HIPAA compliant.

To build HIPAA compliant apps, you need to take care of the following requirements:

Healthcare app development, as per the HIPAA compliance guidelines, is an intricate process. Before starting such a project, the developers need to be sure about the whole process. It includes defining the scope of their application usage. It means that developers need to know how to build an app for Healthcare and what information comes under the purview of PHI. It makes the product HIPAA compliant.

Some of this information includes names, phone numbers, and email I.D.s. Other than this, SSN, Medical records also come under PHI. The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services has named 18 types of information under PHI.

So if the application works with any such information, follow the HIPAA compliant app development processes.

Set up enough physical safeguards. To this end, check the data transfer networks and backend support systems. Moreover, analyze the device integrations in this process since these applications have data transmission. An application must have all the safeguards for data protection. It’s a crucial point to consider before starting building an app.

HIPAA compliant mobile app development needs to look at the Administrative safeguards. These safeguards are primarily concentrated on the protection of ePHI. Share only the essential PHI across different platforms.

Further, one should pay attention to Information Access Management. Concerning information access, only the concerned person must have access to it. Take note of the clearance levels before starting to build a platform. Adopt measures like Fingerprint authentication. But, maintaining the user-friendliness of the HIPAA compliant app is also essential.

Data encryption includes setting up unique user identification. Also, take note of the emergency application access procedures, and log out sequences. Plus, ensure that there are no PHI data notifications on mobile devices.

Limit the accrual of data due to the least. Do not allow users to store or receive more data than what is needed. It is also essential for data security.

Features of a HIPAA Compliant Application

Features of a HIPAA Compliant Application

Once you have decided that you need a HIPAA app, the next step would be to identify a HIPAA compliant app’s critical features.

User login

Unlike other mobile applications, it won’t be a good idea to allow the users to login with their regular email or social media accounts in a HIPAA compliant app. Safety is on top priority in a HIPAA compliant application. There is a high chance that the patient might have used the same social media or email account to log in to other third-party apps. A hacker can easily target the user’s social media account and siphon off the users’ sensitive data.

You will have to use a password or a PIN or an OTP for strengthening the security of your HIPAA app. To further make the security watertight, you could consider using biometric identification.

Access during Emergencies

A medical app must be able to function during an emergency. Access to the data of your HIPAA compliant application should be available under every circumstance. Although HIPAA doesn’t mandate it, it would be a great addition to your feature list if the app could work under trying circumstances like the occurrence of a natural disaster or a power cut.

The encryption standards

Data encryption is one of the most important aspects of any medical app as it deals with sensitive data. The app should not allow the sharing of critical information through open channels like email and social media. You will have to ensure that the data is always encrypted, and stored on the server.

We recommend TLS services like AWS or Google Cloud, which would address all the issues related to encryption, authentication, and identification.

You could further fortify your security with AES encryption standards.

How to develop your HIPAA compliant mHealth App?

How to develop your HIPAA compliant mHealth AppTo make your HIPAA compliant app, you need to follow these steps.

Now that we know a thing or two about the features that you could include in your HIPAA compliant application, next, we will see about the steps that you will need to take to make your app HIPAA compliant.

Get an Experts Help

You need an expert at the HIPAA regulations to make your application foolproof and adhere to compliances. It would be a good idea to hire an expert who would guide you through this complex and intricate maze of rules and regulations. Remember a small lapse in compliance, and you will find authorities breathing down your neck!

Hire experienced healthcare law experts and select experienced healthcare app developers to ensure that your team is always HIPAA compliant.

There are two ways to hire experts.

  1. Hire an in-house expert
  2. Outsource the work to an agency that already has the required experts

Compare the two options and select the best one according to your needs, but always have expert help by your side when dealing with Healthcare.

Draw the line at Patient data

As dealing with the healthcare industry, you will have access to confidential patient data. You should have a clear idea about the kind of data that comes under the purview of PHI. It is the data that you will have to take care of.

There will be some form of data sharing between various stakeholders like patients, their relatives, the hospital administration, doctors, nurses, and so on. It would help if you had restricted access concerning the sharing of data.

It is important that you assess the scenario and identify which data need to be shared and avoided. This way, a future data breach can be avoided.

Selecting the tech stack

Once the above steps are completed, we now move on to building an  app.

The tech stack that you select to build your HIPAA compliant app depends on its complexity.

The mobile apps built for the healthcare domain need to be scalable, and hence you should consider using reactive technologies to create a HIPAA compliant application.

You should also ensure that your dedicated developers have paid attention to app architecture and have complied with a HIPAA application’s requirements.

Testing

Testing your HIPAA app is vital, and you should ensure that testing is done rigorously to avoid future mishaps. Thorough testing will build your trust in the app’s security, allowing you to work with peace of mind. The developers should check the app for potential loopholes, especially in the payment gateways and in the authorizations process.

Consider the following IAM (Identity and Access Management) practices to ensure that the app’s security is watertight. While building the tech stack, understand that you might need to employ certain technologies like SOAP, RPC Calls, and REST.

To maximize security, you should embed a VPN into your app; an app without a VPN is vulnerable to get hacked. Ask your developers to acquire HL7 or Health Level 7 certification, which details the data transfer guidelines.

Login Controls and Checks

 Discuss with your developers and cyber security experts to periodically check the I.P. address, point of entry, and the data accessed by the person in case of suspicious activity.

In case of a system anomaly, such a check will help you identify the security breach and prevent future violations.

Cost to develop a HIPAA compliant mobile application

The cost to develop a HIPAA compliance mainly depends on the compliance app’s needs and the number of features the organization is willing to include. Along with the app’s features and conditions, the cost also depends on where the organization is looking to develop the app. For example, if the company is looking to collaborate with freelancers, the development cost would be between $12000- $15000 approximately.

On the other hand, if you are looking to outsource the app development process, the cost would be around $18000-$20000 approximately. In addition to this, some organizations add the maintenance cost of the app in its development cost. Thus the number can vary a little there.

Read Also: Cost to develop an On-demand Medical Testing App

How do I know that my app is HIPAA compliant?

HIPAA does not provide any certificate that your app is HIPAA compliant. You need to ensure that your app adheres to the guidelines set by the concerned authorities. Follow all the procedures and keep yourself updated with the latest developments. It would be wise to contact the concerned authorities in case of doubt.

Closing Notes

Each year the penalties levied on various healthcare organizations in the U.S. count to $1000 to $1.5 million depending upon the seriousness and the size of the breach.  When a data breach happens, it not only ruins the reputation of the company but also severe financial loss.

HIPAA compliant healthcare application development is a complex process, and you will require the help of an expert healthcare app development company here as the stakes are high.

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