With the increased use of technology in the healthcare sector, "HIPAA compliance" may have become a hot topic in many discussions. As an engineer working on healthcare applications, you will play a critical role in ensuring that the app you are creating is HIPAA-compliant. "Ok but… How do I actually do that? What is HIPAA compliance in the first place?" you wonder.

HIPAA, or the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act, is a set of federal regulations designed to protect the privacy and security of patient information. This information is also known as "electronic protected health information" (ePHI), and it refers to any information about an individual's health that is stored or transmitted electronically.

Now that we have a definition, let us try to delve deeper into what we need to do within our software applications to ensure that our healthcare app complies with these critical regulations: HIPAA

Read on to discover four key steps you need to take in order to being HIPAA Compliant.

1. Assessing the app's PHI handling and conducting risk assessment

It always starts with quality assessment [or assurance]—so, then, the first step to achieving  HIPAA compliance is to identify all the ways that the app collects, uses, stores and transmits ePHI. Once we have done that, we need to do a risk assessment, which involves identifying the potential risks of patient information’s vulnerability as well as doing an assessment of the app's architecture, the devices and systems it will be used on, and the potential for human error. This step aims to identify any areas where ePHI may be vulnerable and create a detailed plan about the appropriate security measures to protect it.

2. Implementation of the security measures

Once we have the security measures plan in place from step one, we need to implement it in order to mitigate those risks.

A few examples of the things that we might need to do in this phase are:

  • Creating policies and procedures for encryption technologies;
  • Ensuring data transmission security (SSL or TLS);
  • Setting up firewalls;
  • Implementing access controls (logging  & auditing) to ensure that only authorized;  individuals have access to patient information, etc.

3. Employee training

HIPAA compliance is not just about technology; it's also about people—especially about the people creating and using these technologies. All the engineers, but also the rest of the team, need to do HIPAA training. This could include training on HIPAA regulations, data privacy, and the importance of protecting patient information.

4. Monitor and update

To ensure that we keep on being HIPPA compliant, the last step here is one that never stops: monitoring and updating. HIPAA compliance is an ongoing process, and it should be regularly monitored. Security measures should regularly be updated to ensure that ePHI remains protected.

Finally, in cases where we work with third-party vendors, HIPAA requires relationship management with them to ensure that they are also HIPAA compliant.

HIPAA compliance is a much more complex topic to get into for those of you that are directly responsible for implementing it, but we hope that these four key steps help us all in understanding what HIPAA compliance is and why it is important to healthcare app engineers.  

By following the simple steps outlined, you can keep sensitive patient information secure and your app compliant with HIPAA regulations.

Happy coding! :)