Doctor in a white apron holding a stethoscope

HIPAA guidelines for healthcare apps development

The global e-health market (HCIT technologies or health IT solutions) will be worth USD 600 billion in 2025. The telemedicine sector will grow by 20% to reach the value of USD 175.5 billion by that time. The virtual medical diagnostics market alone is valued at USD 600 million by 2025. The whole market is expected to grow by >15% annually over the next decade. This includes, but is not limited to, apps developed to serve patients. With profits in this sector rising all the time, you can be sure that any well-thought-out venture will be profitable for anyone who makes the right investments. 

Key terms in the context of HIPAA compliance

What is HIPAA (Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act)? It’s a law that protects healthcare professionals and patients, especially their private data and electronic records. Passed in 1996, it required the creation of standards that would protect sensitive patient data from disclosure without the patient’s consent or knowledge. The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services also issued the HIPAA Privacy Rule, a set of rules that were intended to implement the HIPAA requirements.The entities affected by these special requirements are all health care providers, including pharmacists; providers and payers of health care, such as health insurance providers; health information banks; and finally, business associates, which means all entities that use and transmit such information. So you can see that HIPAA also applies to all entities that develop mobile applications. 

PHI stands for “Protected Health Information”. – is any protected patient information. A BAA (Business Associate Agreement) is an agreement with a partner whereby they commit to specific HIPAA-required responsibilities and rights regarding the provision of services

These are the basic terms for HIPAA compliance. When thinking about mobile applications developed in compliance with this standard, you need to keep in mind the specific rules you need to refer to during the software development process. The various HIPAA rules represent the most important aspects of an app. The most important values are privacy, security, and infrastructure breach notification culture. The glue that binds all of the HIPAA values together is the Omnibus Rule, which applies to business partners – who must be HIPAA compliant – and the rules regarding Business Associate Agreements (BAAs). These agreements must be in place even before any PHI or electronic PHI is shared or exchanged and processed between specific entities. In addition, HIPAA sets forth standards to inform entities of their responsibilities and the activities necessary in the course of their operations: including but not limited to creating accurate and consistent documentation, creating policies, procedures, and training employees on HIPAA compliance and best practices when working on PHI and ePHI. 

The HIPAA Privacy Rule addresses national standards for patients’ rights to PHI. It’s important to know that this rule only applies to HIPAA-covered entities – not to business associates. First and foremost, it talks about patients’ rights to access their PHI and – among other things – health system points of service to block access to specific medical information. Any rules that an entity constructs relating to access to personal information must be included in a document that contains elements of HIPAA policies and procedures. Annually, employees with access to PHI must be trained on these policies. 

The HIPAA Security Rule addresses any standards relating to security practices during the processing, storage, and use of PHI or ePHI. This rule applies directly to both entities to which the HIPAA standard applies and their business associates. The explanation for this fact is very simple – entities and their business partners can share ePHI with each other. All information about this must be in the HIPAA-covered entity’s Policies and Procedures. Similar to the Privacy Rule – employees must be trained annually on the Security Rule. 

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The HIPAA Breach Notification Rule addresses standards that apply to both entities and their business partners regarding data leaks. It’s a set of procedures that are necessary to follow in the setting of a leak of any PHI or PHI. Depending on the size of the specific information leak, what is involved, at what point the leak occurred – the procedures and steps to follow are slightly different. This rule also outlines specific responsibilities for reporting leaks to the appropriate agencies – so as to maintain transparency in the organization’s application of HIPAA. 

The HIPAA Omnibus Rule specifies that business partners must also be HIPAA compliant, and it also specifies the rules regarding BAAs, as we highlighted above. 

Applying all of these rules is key to creating a HIPAA-compliant mobile app for the healthcare industry. The standards under HIPAA are not just a set of procedures for business partners and entities – they are also a guarantee to patients affected by PHI and ePHI that their data is fully secure. HIPAA protections are currently key across the industry and anyone serious about a mobile app needs to be compliant with this set of standards, policies and procedures.

a large number of different colored tabletsHIPAA compliant data security

In many large healthcare organizations with multiple departments, medical data must be shared with several physicians or concerned authorities. If such hospitals use a mobile app to transmit data, it must comply with HIPAA rules and regulations. Moreover, hospital authorities should audit the data from time to time to ensure that user data in the app is not inappropriately accessed or suddenly modified. Moreover, in case of remote patient monitoring using wearable technologies such as IoT or AI; only the required data will be transmitted to ensure data security. For this reason, application communication networks have integrity control mechanisms.

HIPAA-compliant software ensures that the amount of sensitive data stored in them is subject to access restrictions when the device is moved off hospital premises. Also, when users delete these apps, any associated health data is completely removed from their device. Remember, HIPAA regulations only apply to apps that use PHI, i.e., protected health information. Therefore, data transmitted from an app that does not deal with personally identifiable information does not need to be protected under HIPAA guidelines.

The importance of data capture has increased over the years to improve overall healthcare operations, using advanced technologies such as Internet of Things (IoT), RFID Robotic Process Automation (RPA) technology, Chatbots, etc. Patients’ personal information, contact details and medical reports are digitally recorded and saved by several hospital authorities. Therefore, maintaining data privacy is important to ensure that only relevant information is shared with the right group of people and at the right time. This strategy helps providers build trust among patients.

HIPAA compliant applications follow strict rules to ensure data security and privacy. These apps are hosted on HIPAA compliant servers to ensure all HIPAA standards are met correctly. They must display a link in the mobile app privacy policy while users download the app. Apps require patient/user consent before storing their information. In addition, users are informed of how their data will be used.

Typical medical application functions (when you need to be HIPAA compliant)

Typical medical applications have a variety of functions within them. However, it is useful to know the ones that appear most often in this type of software. These are not an inventory of the most commonly used functions in healthcare software, but they are the “gold standard” for creating HIPAA compliant applications. 

Data availability in the cloud

Medical data is an extremely sensitive but important issue. A patient’s medical data is the backdrop for all the future treatment they will receive. Therefore, you need to provide them with a better way to store their data.

Data stored locally can be corrupted or deleted. Adding a cloud storage feature will help users to store their data seamlessly in the cloud. They can also synchronize new data seamlessly.

Prescriptions and hospital reports

The digital prescription and reports feature is common to all three types of applications. Handling and carrying medical documents, especially different types of medical certificates, can be a bit problematic. There is a risk of losing the documents. And that is why the digital prescription and reports function can be useful for users.

With this feature, patients will be able to quickly make their medical documents available to their doctor for review, which means that they won’t have to carry different kinds of documents with them. Doctors can easily access this digital data at any time, which greatly speeds up the entire treatment process.

Having a digital copy of a patient’s medical records stored in a hospital database means that hospital staff can access this report directly from the hospital application. Digitizing medical records can amazingly speed up the entire treatment process.

Booking medical appointments and making doctor’s appointments

Patient app-specific doctor discovery and appointment booking can help patients find doctors in their city and book appointments with them easily.

Users can search for doctors using filtered search options. This allows them to search for doctors based on proximity, specialty, experience, reviews and ratings, hospitals they are associated with and much more. Once they find the right doctor, they can easily schedule an appointment directly from the app. And if something comes up and users are unable to make an appointment, they can also cancel the appointment directly from the app.

“Medicine on Demand” features

“Medicine on demand” is a collection of features that take advantage of services like Uber to adapt new approaches in creating new functionality. Let’s use an example – for example, ordering medications through a mobile app. 

To help users order medicine directly from the app, you can list all the pharmacies in their area. They can easily select their familiar pharmacy and order medicine there. For this feature to be complete, you also need to add an online payment option in your app. Users will be able to pay for the medicine directly from the app, without having to face the confusion of cash on delivery and the like.

With medications available on demand, patients can easily maintain their medications. “Uber app model” has proven to be particularly useful in the medical industry. So if you are thinking of developing a custom mobile healthcare app, you can add this small feature to give your app a slight edge over all others.

thermomenter, patches, tablets and stethoscope

What types of applications should be HIPAA compliant?

Hospital applications

Hospital apps, are created when a hospital or clinic needs an app to meet their branding and digital monetization needs. There are also a few essential features if you are developing an app for your clinic.

EHR/EMR apps

The second type is what is commonly called an EMR (Electronic Medical Records, sometimes also called EHR) app , where there is no reference to a specific clinic and you as a user have a variety of hospitals to choose from to stick to. Other than this “variety” feature, all other features are pretty much the same. These types of apps are even more beneficial to you as a customer of the system, where you don’t have to turn to a specific institution.

One of the additional features of EHR apps can be online video/audio consultations with your doctor, as telemedicine allows you to observe the patient’s condition and disease recession – without the risk of infection. Another feature that has a big impact on user acquisition is the implementation of AI algorithms to diagnose underlying diseases and symptoms. There are research projects that uses cutting-edge machine learning technology to build innovative tools for automated, quantitative analysis of 3D radiological images.” Essentially, researchers are working to recreate healthy anatomy in 3D radiology images.

Other medical applications

Specific medical software that tackles more complex tasks – such as algorithms for presenting symptoms and diagnoses, diagnostics and x-rays, and so on. Creating these systems requires a medical expert to be on board, many rules and regulations to be followed, and a special testing team to be formed – since the test cases will be conducted on real and living people. All such applications should be HIPAA compliant and additionally – functional within a safe range for the user. 

HIPAA compliance – work with the best in the business

Our experience is our greatest strength. Concise Software actively partners with professionals from many countries who are leaders in their industries. The knowledge we have acquired over the years is something we strive to pass on to our clients at all times. We are able to adapt to new conditions and we make sure that our specialists continue to expand their competencies. Then we are sure that we provide our customers with something very important – reliability and quality. 

Looking for Custom Healthcare Software Development?

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Contact Concise Software today. HIPAA compliance is a very important topic – every company that operates in the healthcare market and every startup that works on a medical application – should be compliant with this set of rules and practices for handling medical data. At Concise Software, we believe that every person on earth should have access to the best possible solutions. Make an appointment to talk with us – we’re sure we can help you!

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Jakub Szczęsny

PR / Marketing Specialist at Concise Software. Author of one of the largest technology websites in Poland - Antyweb

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