The recent pandemic has dramatically changed the way people approach their healthcare, revolutionizing the field of telemedicine and health apps. With a huge rise in the number of users choosing virtual consultations over in-person visits in physical locations, it was predicted that telemedicine will continue to grow in popularity even after the pandemic is over.

The shift in healthcare delivery has not only increased access to medical services, but has also improved the convenience of receiving care. However, as with every technological advancement, there are concerns regarding user privacy and security. In the US, the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act (HIPAA) sets strict guidelines for protecting patient information in terms of digital health services, and every business offering custom healthcare software development services has to adhere to the rules.

What is HIPAA Compliance, and Why Is It in Place?

The Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act is not a new invention; it was enacted in 1996 to ensure the protection of sensitive patient information and never referred to digital medical records exclusively. In fact, it was created to address the privacy and security concerns surrounding sensitive data in all forms, even though it mostly focuses on organized healthcare providers.

The national standards are designed to protect individuals’ medical records and other personal health information from being shared, misused, or accessed without their authorization and knowledge. In today’s world of highly advanced technology and sophisticated cybercrime, HIPAA compliance is more important than ever to protect medical information and maintain the security of patients in the American healthcare system.

HIPAA Regulations in Custom Software Development

With the number of Americans using health tech devices and mobile apps increasing, there is a growing pressure on software developers to take greater care about data security and privacy when designing and implementing custom software for the healthcare industry. This includes ensuring that all software meets HIPAA regulations, and that developers are well aware of all the requirements that need to be met in order to ensure compliance. Below, we have compiled a list of some of the most pressing issues that developers should consider when developing custom software for the healthcare industry.

Data Integrity

Another goal of developing a HIPAA-compliant app is to protect any sensitive patient information you gather, store, and transfer, so that it could not be stolen or tampered with. If your system does not have enough protection in place to detect a possible breach or an attempt at fraudulent access, it will not be HIPAA-compliant. Without a strong focus on data integrity, software developers risk their apps being deemed unsafe for use in the healthcare industry.

Storage and Encryption

One of the issues that healthcare app developers have to address is the secure storage and encryption of the data collected. Simple methods like basic passwords or even two-factor authentication will not be enough to protect sensitive information. Implementing strong encryption protocols and regularly updating security measures in your software is crucial in order to prevent data breaches and maintain confidentiality.

Identity and Access

Who is allowed to open and access your healthcare app is another important consideration for developers. Of course, you will have users that need a lot of different levels of access depending on their role in the healthcare system, but if you do not properly manage and control access, unauthorized individuals could potentially view or steal data. Keeping healthcare apps secure and accessible at the same time can be a daunting task, but implementing strong identity and access management strategies can help ensure that breaches and data leaks do not happen.

PHI Disposal and Data Backup

One of the requirements of HIPAA that applies to software developers is the need to regularly back up data and securely dispose of protected health information (PHI) when it is no longer needed or used.

The healthcare sector is one of the most popular targets of cyberattacks due to the sensitive nature of the information it holds. Therefore, even the data that has been backed up must be securely stored and encrypted to prevent breaches. It makes no difference if it is not currently in use; it still poses a privacy risk if not properly protected.

Physical Safeguards

The data that your custom healthcare app collects or processes must not only be digitally secured, but physically safeguarded as well. While it is not common to think about actual physical security in the context of digitally stored information, it is actually one of the most important aspects of protecting sensitive data in accordance with HIPAA requirements.

This includes implementing measures such as restricted access to physical servers and data storage rooms, as well as using extra surveillance to prevent unauthorized access.

The Consequences of HIPAA Noncompliance

The US Department of Health and Human Services enforces HIPAA compliance and imposes severe penalties for infractions. Fines can range from a few hundred dollars to over a million, and prison sentences are also a possibility for serious violations.

Failure to adhere to the HIPAA requirements does not only come with repercussions for the organization itself but also for individual employees who may be held personally accountable for noncompliance, which should be concerning for all staff members working on a healthcare app.

The loss of reputation can, of course, also affect both the healthcare provider and the development company involved in creating the app, so both parties should put enough emphasis on ensuring HIPAA compliance.

How Can You Improve Your HIPAA Compliance?

Keeping up-to-date with the most current regulations and guidelines at all times to avoid unintentional violations, conducting regular security risk assessments, and providing ongoing training for staff on HIPAA can all be effective strategies to minimize the risk of noncompliance.

The standards are always evolving, and will likely change as the digital world progresses, but as long as you stay proactive and willing to apply new practices, your organization can navigate the complexities of the HIPAA.