HIPAA Compliant App Development. What Do You Need to Know About It?

It’s becoming more and more popular creating mobile apps for patients healthcare because we are eager to save lives, to help people. And we, at TecSynt, already explored the subject in our article ‘How to Build a Mobile app for Patients Health Tracking’.

The crucial point that was mentioned there was the privacy of patient information which means in this case that your app should be HIPAA-compliant. As it was shortly described, any information (name, address, patient’s health and financial records) or images the patient shares with his doctor need to be stored and transmitted in a way that meets federal guidelines for safety and privacy of personal information.

Let us warn you, there are no jokes when it comes to saving someone’s health. It’s a serious issue and we would like to guide you some more through the custom HIPAA Compliant App Development.

HIPAA Compliance for Health Applications

If you chose the idea to develop HIPAA-compliant medical app for your startup, then you should know what you’re getting yourself into. First of all, what is the beast called HIPAA and why do you need to be HIPAA compliant?

“HIPAA stands for the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act (issued in 1996). It provides regulations and standards for the use and disclosure of a person’s Protected Health Information (PHI). HIPAA obligates business associates and covered entities to safeguard the privacy and security of the PHI. HIPAA department also built a series of privacy tools to protect healthcare data.”

As mobile app developers, we should be concerned with Electronic Protected Health Information (ePHI) represented by the data that’s saved, transmitted or collected in electronic form. Which can be hacked and stolen, as long as someone’s iPhone or Smartphone can be lost (and many users don’t password-protect their devices), which leads to PHI exposure and leaves you with the HIPAA violation (non-disclosure) penalty. And while there will never be 100% PHI safety insurance you must do your best to protect the future users of your app from their medical data leakage or theft.

And how do you define if your app must be HIPAA-compliant? Well, pretty simple, actually.

If you plan to build it for average customers (not for doctors or covered entities) and it's going to used only for:

  • medical reminder
  • diseases and illnesses descriptions
  • fitness schedules and daily diets tracking 

then you’re free to drop the case.

But if your app will gather, store and transfers or shares PHI directly to doctors, hospitals, or other covered entities, it definitely must be HIPAA-compliant.

How to make an app HIPAA compliant?

Okay, after you determined whether or not your product has to be HIPAA-compliant, time to learn, under which terms you’re going to start the development process.

HIPAA Compliance for Health Applications is based on the next rules:

  • Privacy Rule
  • Security Rule
  • Enforcement Rule
  • Breach Notification Rule

To study the case of Privacy Rule, we recommend visiting the ‘Summary of the HIPAA Privacy Rule’. But the rule that you’re interested in the first place is the HIPAA Security Rule. And there are three parts of HIPAA Security Rule that will regulate the app making process. You must appropriately follow each of them combined to ensure the confidentiality, integrity, and security of your user’s PHI.

All about hipaa apps

The HIPAA Compliance Key Requirements That Are Your Most Concern:

1. Administrative Safeguards

This significant law deals with the policies and procedures you have to implement to ensure the proper staff management, their training and oversight regarding HIPAA terms of PHI protection.

2. Technical Safeguards

It’s basically what your app needs to do when handling PHI, including data encryption and decryption, integrity, audit controls, emergency access cases, authentication, HIPAA file storage, transmission security etc.

3. Physical Safeguards

It’s all about the security of data, who has authorized access to the PHI data and how this data is going to be managed, including data failure and redundancy requirements, access to servers etc. You have to limit usage and sharing of PHI to the necessary minimum.

How do you become HIPAA-Compliant?

As we established above, when you plan to design an mHealth app that will store, handle, and pass customer’s PHI to a covered entity, then you absolutely must do your best to become HIPAA-compliant. How can you achieve the final goal? Well, U.S. Department of Health & Human Services provides an insight into the Security Rule and assistance with the implementation of the security standards.

So, you probably will reach out to them at some point, anyway, but for now, let’s focus on the technology that protects PHI and controls access to it, shall we? The most difficult and effort-demanding stage of the mHealth app development.

HIPAA-Comliant apps

mHealth is short for mobile health, referring to the technologies, services and companies who are creating patient health tracking apps for various mobile devices (iPhones, Smartphones, tablets, and wearable devices for sport trainings and healthcaring). And mHealth mobile app means the software that runs on mobile gadgets and takes care of personal health tracking. Including mobile devices and apps that track physical activity, user’s biometrics, as well as compliance with health and medical prescriptions.

Therefore, we would like to point out some actions you should take if you consider mHealth App Development with HIPAA Requirements:

  1. Unique User Identification & Authentication must be represented by unique procedures to verify a person or entity who’s seeking access to PHI. It can be a name/number for identifying and tracking user identity, state-of-the-art password protection/PIN code, a smart card, a token or a key, or a biometric data (fingerprints, voice patterns, facial patterns or iris patterns).
  2. Emergency Access Procedure – implement the procedures for obtaining necessary ePHI in case of emergency.
  3. Automatic LogOff – there should be electronic procedures that terminate an app session after some time of user’s inactivity.
  4. Encryption & Decryption – create a secure infrastructure within the app. Encrypt the data that will be stored in your mobile app by placing the encryption key and data on different servers. Isolate all components of the systems as much as possible to reduce the impact of each of them on one another. In addition to the built-in encryption tools that comes with the iOS and Android, there are such friends for you as AES-256, SHA2 or 64-bit key encryption.
  5. Audit Controls – there have to be hardware, software, and procedural mechanisms in your healthcare app that record and examine activity in information systems that contain or use user’s PHI.
  6. Transmission Security – secure the server communication channel. You ought to ensure that electronically transmitted ePHI wouldn’t be improperly modified without detection. And it can be achieved by a combination of the two methods: SSL Pinning technology and signature mechanisms or search query time, so even if the interception, unfortunately, took place, it couldn’t be repeated.
  7. Business associate agreement – don’t use a third-party hosting/storing system unless you perfectly sure that it’s HIPAA compliant. Then you should sign a business associate agreement with a service provider that will perform covered functions. That’s how you protect yourself while knowing that a service provider use, safeguard and disclose PHI properly.
  8. Don’t forget to provide regular app updates for the safety and the data protection.
  9. Don’t use PHI with push notifications – it can lead to the sensitive PHI corruption or leakage.
  10. Implement a data backup option – the information needs to be in synced with the backend storage on a constant basis. And the backup storage should be also highly protected. Otherwise, if a backup copy of a device isn’t encrypted, the valuable data won’t be backed up.

Hipaa mobile apps

We just scratched the surface, but now you know the most critical road bumps and should be able to proceed smoothly with your app development.  To help you out a little more, we can advise taking into consideration ‘Application Developers Guide to HIPAA Compliance’ and an informative tutorial on ‘How To Make Software HIPAA Compliant’.

Also, as we discussed in our post ‘How to Build a Mobile app for Patients Health Tracking’, to become the best and beat your competitors, you should learn from the best of them. So, it would be wise of you to do a research and find out the secret of the best successful HIPAA-compliant apps that are already appreciated by users worldwide. Don’t pay the price of the HIPAA violation fees when you can avoid them by being fully prepared before you start the development process.  

Bottomline

To save someone’s lives is the greatest good we are able to do. Even this act will be represented by your medical health tracking app. But for it to be HIPAA-compliant and protect you from non-compliance consequences you must prevent any unauthorized access to Protected Health Information. And still, even after all requirements are met, you'll need to consult with legal counsel to be certain that your app is, indeed, HIPAA-compliant. And the whole HIPAA Compliant App Development can be really hard and tricky.

So, if you can’t decide whether or not your project should become HIPAA-compliant or if you don’t know how to handle the mHealth app development under HIPAA requirements you can contact us anytime you like. We will help you to design fully protected HIPAA-compliant app.

Our qualified team of skilled developers will do their best to make your idea come true in the most explicit way. Of course, when you hire a mobile app development company there going to be some stretching of your budget, but we promise you that the cost of the HIPAA-compliant medical app will be appropriately justified if you decide to ask for our help.

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How to Build a Mobile app for Patients Health Tracking?
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