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 developing a website for your healthcare practice.

A Quick Overview of HIPAA

In 1996, former president Bill Clinton created and signed the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act to protect sensitive patient data. Today, this U.S. legislation offers data privacy to secure patients’ medical information.

HIPAA includes the following five titles:

  • Title I- Protects health insurance coverage
  • Title II- Directs the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services
  • Title III- Relates to tax-related provisions
  • Title IV- Further form of health insurance
  • Title V- Includes conditions associated with company-owned insurance

HIPAA Privacy Rules

The Privacy Rules guidelines address covered entities’ exchange and safety of public health information. It comprises stringent guidelines for individuals’ rights to handle public health information.

The Privacy Rules allow you to strike the perfect balance between protecting patients’ privacy and enabling the use of information.

The Covered Entities of HIPAA

Organizations that need to follow and comply with HIPAA laws are as follows:

1.    Doctors and healthcare providers

Irrespective of the size of the institute, any healthcare facility that deals or transmits health-related data, including claims, benefit eligibility criteria inquiries, referral plans, and authorization requests.

2.    Health Insurance Companies

Any entity that offers or pays for healthcare plans, including health, dental, vision, and medication insurers, HMOs, Medicare, Medicaid, and other supplement insurance agents, sponsored long-term caregivers, employer-based healthcare group plans, government or church-sponsored healthcare plans.

3.    Business Associates

Any person or company that provides individually identifiable health-related information to other covered entities for performing healthcare activities. These also include billing, claim requests, data review, and analysis for research purposes.

4.    Healthcare Clearinghouses

The liaisons between healthcare providers, insurance companies, and business associates but deal with processing nonstandard patient data.

Top Benefits of HIPAA Compliant Website

Many organizations are unable to meet HIPAA compliance requirements. However, it is mandatory for businesses and poses the following benefits:

  • Greater control over medical records
  • Ability to make informed choices by leveraging protected health information
  • HIPAA ensures boundaries on the use and release of medical records
  • HIPAA holds violators accountable for action

Here we discuss the benefits of HIPAA compliant website in detail:

1. Protects Against PHI Loss

One of the most significant ways that HIPAA benefits you and your organization is by serving against Public Health Information loss. PHI loss is a severe offense and occurs whenever you put your patients and confidential data at risk.

Healthcare organizations often interact with personal and confidential health information countless times. Each time you come across public health information, you face an opportunity to lose or protect patient data.

HIPAA provides you a guaranteed methodology to ensure your staff members understand how to secure and protect patients’ PHI. Overall, HIPAA protects you and your employees against PHI lawsuits, given that you comply with its guidelines.

2. Boosts Brand Trust and Loyalty

Being a HIPAA compliant organization helps increase brand trust and customer loyalty. Because patients and potential clients gain peace of mind, you’ll protect their sensitive data appropriately.

When you adhere to HIPAA guidelines, you ensure the confidentiality and integrity of public health information.

Another benefit of HIPAA compliance is that it increases patient loyalty. When patients or clients trust your organization, they will likely continue doing business.

3. Reduces Medical Errors in Busy Systems

HIPAA encourages healthcare providers and patients to work together to build medical files. As a result, it helps reduce discrepancy and human errors in patients’ health data.

It helps enhance the quality of patient care by enabling medical practitioners to have confidence in the accuracy of data.

Moreover, electronic health records make it easy for nurses and healthcare providers to access patients’ health data, learn family history, and make updates. Leveraging these factors improves operational efficiency and streamlines workflow.

4. Enhances Cyber security

Another benefit of HIPAA-compliant websites is keeping data systems, software, and networks up-to-date and secured.

Often medical providers fail to keep their data systems updated, and some don’t even collect them in one place. Fortunately, advanced systems automatically reduce manual errors, collate data on one platform, and ensure easy tracking.

But these systems also increase the risk of malicious software and security breaches that can potentially compromise PHI. Without HIPAA, many healthcare websites and apps would likely take cybersecurity measures lightly.

5. Increases Awareness of Patient’s Well-Being

For healthcare providers, a patient’s well-being is everything. Despite this, many organizations fail to understand how securing sensitive data contributes to a patient’s well-being.

HIPAA compliant websites offer staff members the perfect opportunity to handle patient information properly. It enables them to meet their clients’ needs better.

Plus, with HIPAA training comes the necessity to equip your staff with state-of-the-art to guard patients’ PHI effectively.

Cons of HIPAA

Although HIPAA has numerous benefits, there are a few cons to it. Let us go through some of the disadvantages of a HIPAA-compliant system.

1. Requires more staff

Companies that follow HIPAA set rules may require more staff to ensure that the organization abides by the rules set. Larger companies need a dedicated team to monitor security systems. More staff means additional costs, which may increase patients’ medical bills.

2. Does not require patients’ consent for Payment

HIPAA rules do not direct hospitals, agencies, doctors to take patients’ consent before charging them for the treatment. Therefore, companies do not ask the patient before submitting a claim to their insurance company. It takes away their right to choose to self-pay or decide what claims they wish to submit to their insurance company.

3. Shares Information with Outsiders

Hospitals are in contact with other services and departments when it comes to treating a patient. Therefore, sharing information with billing or other departments is a normal process. Hospitals do not ask patients if they are comfortable sharing their data with other departments, so they do not have other options.

Although hospitals share information using a secured system, there is always a chance of violation. If any breach occurs, patients cannot sue or fight against them. Unfortunately, it leaves them with no hope of fighting it legally.

A Comprehensive Guide to Creating a HIPAA Compliant Website

Here’s a comprehensive guide to creating a HIPAA compliant website:

Does Your Website Need to be HIPAA Compliant?

The first step to creating a HIPAA compliant website is identifying whether your website should be HIPAA compliant. Here are several questions you can ask yourself to determine this:

  • Are you transmitting public health information via your website?
  • Are you collecting patients’ confidential data on your website?
  • Do you want to store or exchange PHI through your server?

If these questions are yes, you need to ensure your website is HIPAA compliant.

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.

Related: How To Develop FDA Compliant Custom Software

The Checklist to Creating a HIPAA Compliant Website

The exact checklist for developing a HIPAA compliant website vary on the basis of the company’s unique requirements. Experts in healthcare website development such as Arkenea can help you create a custom checklist based on your requirements. A personalized HIPAA compliance checklist can make it easier for your organization to develop a solid game plan when undertaking website development and maintenance while ensuring that the norms set under the HIPAA privacy, security and omnibus rules are met.

However, here are the general guidelines your developers will need to follow to creating a website compliant with HIPAA:

  • Investing and implementing an SSL certificate
  • Ensuring web forms and contact forms are encrypted and secure
  • Sending emails containing public health information via encrypted and secure servers
  • Partnering with HIPAA compliant web hosting companies and using HIPAA compliant web servers
  • Leveraging processes that help protect PHI when in collecting, storing or transmitting PHI
  • Ensuring only authorized healthcare providers, staff members, and patients can access public health information
  • Establishing fool-proof processes to delete and restore PHI

The ‘How-To’ of Creating a HIPAA Compliant Website

HIPAA compliant website addresses the following features:

  • Privacy Rule
  • Security Rule
  • HIPAA-Compliant Website Platform
  • Restricted access
  • Change passwords regularly
  • Data breach protocol
  • Managed Firewall

Understanding the Privacy Rule

The Privacy Rule is the building block of HIPAA website compliance and applies to medical practitioners, plans, and organizations. Not just this, but third-party providers and business associates also have to follow Privacy Rules.

According to the Privacy Rule, healthcare providers must protect confidential patient data. It also extends patients the right to access, make changes, and ask questions about their medical history.

Learning the Security Rule

The Security Rule implements the Privacy Rule and offers national standards to secure EHR. It includes producing, receiving, sending, or storing information.

HIPAA-Compliant Website Platform

To ensure that your website follows HIPAA rules, you must use a compliant platform. It is essential to think about how people will use your website to create a secure environment. The different ways of using your website will help you design the web page accordingly. The main concern revolves around ePHI-if your company creates, receives, shares, or maintains it.

If you have gathered information using different forums, it is vital to ensure that the shared data is fully secure and follows HIPAA rules. Your site must protect all information against unauthorized access and data breach attempts.

Restricted access

Concisely, restricted access means that only authorized people can access the information. It means that specific users or users can access the data. Similarly, authorized people can alter the data on your site. It is critical as any change in your website information may break HIPAA rules. That is why; people who have the authority to access data need to be careful while making any changes.

Change passwords regularly

HIPAA compliant websites must change passwords frequently to maintain security. It lessens the chances of unauthorized access and protects your data. Changing passwords is a great idea to safeguard information. However, it is a law when it comes to HIPAA.

Companies must change their security passwords to keep the data protected. HIPPA considers companies to be breaking the rules if they fail to update their passwords regularly.

Data breach protocol

Even if you have designed the most secure website, you still need data breach protocol. Establishing an emergency plan to cater to a situation where an unauthorized person tries to access the information is necessary. It helps you to neutralize the breach and provides you an opportunity to show the users that you have a backup plan.

Plan and practice in case you experience such a situation.

Managed Firewalls

Firewalls protect your data. A strong managed firewall includes log monitoring, routine device checks, powerful security response, and network control. The system must consist of redundancy, load balancing through a secondary firewall, monitoring, and reporting.

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.

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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 hosting 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.

While having a HIPAA compliant website may seem like a resource intensive activity, some which require high levels of technical know-how, the good news is that you don’t have to undertake all these tasks by yourself. Nor is it necessary to partner with multiple vendors for each step when developing HIPAA compliant solution. Experienced software partners like Arkenea can make the journey streamlined for you while making sure your website remains compliant to HIPAA norms.

Have more questions on how to ensure that your website remains HIPAA compliant? Experts are just one click away. Arkenea, a healthcare software development company with 10+ years of experience, would be happy to answer any queries that you have!