A HIPAA Compliant Website’s 7 Important Considerations

Healthcare practitioners and organizations need to give paramount importance to patient data safety and security on a priority basis. Ensuring compliance to HIPAA (health insurance portability and accountability act) regulations is crucial when designing a website for your healthcare practice.

When Does Your Website Need To be HIPAA Compliant

If your website deals with collecting, storing, and/or transmitting PHI (Protected Health Information), you need to ensure HIPAA compliance. So what does protected health information constitute?

Any personally identifiable medical or financial information related to health services falls under PHI. This includes,

  • Identifiable demographic or genetic information related to health
  • Information relating to the physical or mental condition of an individual
  • Payment or financial information related to healthcare

Protected health information may be collected through online web forms, patient portals, live chats and telemedicine consultations, EHRs and EMRs, and even patient reviews and testimonials on your website.

Stringent measures must therefore be taken to ensure safety of any data that you are collecting, transmitting or storing through your website that falls under PHI.

How To Make Sure That Your Website is HIPAA Compliant

Ensuring that your website stays compliant to the HIPAA privacy and security rule requires the necessary steps be taken and requisite technical, physical and administrative safeguards are in place to ensure the PHI is safe from malicious attacks data vulnerabilities.

1. Get an SSL certificate for your healthcare website

The first step that needs to be taken is adding the first layer of security to your website through an SSL. An SSL (Secure Sockets Layer) is a networking protocol designed for securing connections between web clients and web servers over the internet.

Having an SSL certificate secures the transmissions from the user’s computers to the server by encrypting them and thus rendering them unreadable to the third parties.

In case of a non-SSL website, (with http url) every entity between the user and the server can see the data that passes through, including the sensitive health or patient information.

Apart from being compliant to the HIPAA norms, a website with https protocol is deemed more trustworthy by the visitors as well as search engine algorithms making it rank higher in the search engine result pages (SERP) as well.

2. Secure data collection

Any data you collect from the visitors have to be done through HIPAA compliant web forms. This ensures that any PHI you collect will be securely captured without the risk of being breached or falling into the wrong hands. Web forms may include contact forms asking about symptoms, medications or other health related information.

Make sure that any forms that ask for PHI to be entered on your website are encrypted forms. This allows you to keep data more secure. Encrypted web-forms will guard any data entered into them so that they can only be accessed by entering a key. Like any security safeguards, there are different levels of protection depending on the type of encryption in use. End-to-end encryption is the most secure and should be your preferred choice.

3. Ensure complete data encryption

While SSL protection deals with user and server encryption, you also need to encrypt any data you store. Encryption of all data during transmission is mandatory to make sure people can’t read it if it’s intercepted.

HIPAA has set its own standards for encrypting data that is both “at rest” and “in motion”. Data access should be restricted to the administrators and core team members. Access settings need to be configured to ensure that data leaks and breaches are prevented.

4. Secure data storage

Whether the data you collect is stored on physical servers or you choose to cloud host the data, adequate security measures need to be in place. Encryption of the stored data is the norm when dealing with PHI.

Choosing HIPAA compliant cloud storage when storing your data on the cloud makes your job easier. Since they are already well versed with HIPAA regulations, compliance is built into the system rather than remaining an afterthought. The multi-tiered pricing plans and robust support offered by them makes it easier for you to choose the cloud server that best meets your requirements.

5. Enter into business associate agreements

Under HIPAA, both health care providers and health care vendors who encounter PHI are mandated to be HIPAA compliant. Providers are called “covered entities” under HIPAA, and vendors are considered “business associates.”

A business associate contract is an agreement between an organization and its “business associate” that has access to PHI collected by the organization. The contract requires that business partners follow HIPAA guidelines to keep PHI secure.

6. Regular data backups

All data collected by your website needs to be backed up regularly to avoid complete data loss. The backups can be done over a local server that has been secured with end-to-end encryption or through a secure cloud server that is HIPAA compliant.

All the backed-up data needs to be encrypted and the access restricted to one designated user. Any flaw in data storage and backup protocols may lead to an eventual HIPAA breach and find you guilty of not adhering to HIPAA regulations.

7. Removal of information from the database

HIPAA mandates that all the data collected or stored by your business should be deleted when it is no longer of any business relevance. You need to have protocols in place for ensuring deletion of data stored on the server and website database to be compliant with HIPAA norms.

Permanent deletion of data from the server implies that you cannot have the opportunity to recover it. Once someone leaves the company, their data has to go too.

Have more questions on how to ensure that your website remains HIPAA compliant? Experts are just one click away. Arkenea is a digital health solutions firm with 9+ years of experience in healthcare domain would be happy to answer any queries that you have!

Vinati Kamani
 

Dr Vinati Kamani writes about emerging technology and its application across industries for Arkenea. She is an avid reader and self proclaimed bibliophile. When Vinati is not at her desk penning down articles or reading up on the recent trends, she can be found travelling to remote places and soaking up different cultural experiences.