Editor’s note: Are you planning to develop a HIPAA-compliant telemedicine app or have doubts if your existing telehealth app complies with HIPAA regulations? Alena will share ScienceSoft’s experience in creating HIPAA-compliant telemedicine apps. If you need hands-on assistance in making your application compliant, you are welcome to explore ScienceSoft’s telemedicine app development offering.
You can’t overestimate the importance of HIPAA compliance in telemedicine applications since the leakage of PHI (protected health information) can result in grave fines and reputation losses for care providers. However, HIPAA guidelines cannot always keep up with the rapidly changing telehealth technology, so the technical PHI safeguards they promote can sometimes seem vague or confusing. No wonder, it can be difficult to understand what you need to do to make your telemedicine app HIPAA-compliant.
Based on ScienceSoft’s experience in developing and implementing HIPAA-compliant telemedicine solutions, I’d like to share some proven measures to make a telehealth app HIPAA-compliant.
Currently, data encryption is one of the most effective measures to ensure HIPAA compliance of a telemedicine app or any other healthcare software. It makes sure that, even if a data leakage occurs, its use by third parties is unlikely. Data encryption helps to protect patient information when it is stored in the cloud or on-premises (at rest) and transmitted within the network (in transit) using strong in-transit encryption standards (for example, SSL/TLS certificates). ScienceSoft, for example, has developed a HIPAA-compliant telehealth Android app of the Chiron Health platform using encryption of peer-to-peer video connection to ensure the security of video consultations.
As my practice shows, some healthcare organizations are worried that data encryption can substantially slow down the work of their telemedicine application. Speaking about in-transit encryption, encrypted data transmission doesn’t affect app performance in a way for users to notice. As for at-rest encryption, when it’s done on the application level, it can indeed affect the app’s performance negatively, that’s why we at ScienceSoft use file-level or block-level encryption when developing telehealth apps for our customers.
To provide HIPAA-compliant video conferencing, text messaging, and other useful functions of telehealth apps, we at ScienceSoft employ data access control measures, as, for example, in our project on the development of a remote care mobile solution for a large healthcare system. There, we set up user roles, user authentication, access rights, action permissions, automatic logoff, etc., so that medical staff and patients get assigned different ‘roles’ with particular permissions to perform certain actions. Restricting system access according to user roles, you can ensure patient/doctor privacy and eliminate the possibility of PHI leakage.
Providing HIPAA security of a telemedicine app is not a one-time procedure. Only continuous measures can ensure the HIPAA security of a telehealth application and all transmitted and stored data. For example, at ScienceSoft, we usually provide our customers with vulnerability assessment, penetration testing, and continuous telemedicine system monitoring as these measures help maintain a high level of application security.
You need to sign a Business Associate Agreement (BAA) with your vendor before proceeding with any technical measures to secure your telemedicine app’s HIPAA compliance, since vendors usually require access to PHI (for example, in case of providing application support services). With BAA, the vendor becomes accountable for any patient privacy violation and disclosure of PHI that they get access to.
However, there is no document that can guarantee that your vendor will design and deliver a HIPAA-complaint telemedicine application. That’s why I recommend resorting to third-party HIPAA compliance testing after the telemedicine app development and roll-out are completed or use SRA Tool (Security Risk Assessment Tool).
Although the HHS Office for Civil Rights announced that penalties for non-compliance would not be applied in cases of the “good faith use” of telehealth during the COVID-19 situation, this does not mean that HIPAA compliance in telemedicine loses its relevance and importance. In all times, providing patient data security is the duty of a telehealth provider. But this duty does not have to be something your organization carries out on its own. If you need a competent vendor that specializes in HIPAA-compliant telemedicine app development, feel free to turn to ScienceSoft’s healthcare IT team.