A Guide On How To Develop A HIPAA-Compliant Mobile Application

15 Oct

The healthcare sector is one of the leading and most promising sectors at present.

In the digital era, many healthcare service providers along with their associates are investing in advanced solutions to beat their contemporaries. The exponential increase of internet solutions is extraordinary but it has also imposed many threats that were previously unheard of. The majority of the applications do not work on smartphones until the user enters their personal information into it. The explosion of healthcare applications is hitting the market at a faster pace and many healthcare IT solutions providers are drawn to consider its scope. Many service providers are also keeping up with the HIPAA-compliant healthcare app standards for their solutions.

In this article, we will understand about HIPAA-compliant healthcare applications and how to create one of them for your platform.

Introduction To HIPAA-Compliant Healthcare Applications

HIPAA stands for the Health Insurance Portability and Accountancy Act that was passed in the year 1996 by the US government. This regulatory act monitors various aspects of the healthcare sector and protects healthcare workers or professionals by offering them health insurance coverage. This act established the regulatory standards for healthcare-based transactions for offline as well as online mediums. The HIPAA act performs various other tasks but for a healthcare mobile app development company or professional it is important to know the ones that have been mentioned previously. The HIPAA Compliance Act has been consistently evolving and updating many of the modern healthcare business requirements. Other than the general guidelines it is also extended to leverage the potential of mobile healthcare solutions.

In order for any healthcare application to get permitted to be distributed in the USA, it is essential for them to meet the guidelines and the regulations that are set under the same act. The applications that follow all of these regulations without any uncertainty are termed as HIPAA-compliant healthcare applications. Even the personal medical information of patients can be heavily misused and many such cases have already been observed. Hence, this regulatory measure is extremely important for healthcare applications to follow as it ensures privacy, security, mobility, essential care, and speed of the solutions.

Why Are HIPAA-Compliant Healthcare Applications Becoming Popular?

The answer to this question is quite simple - mobile technology has transformed the lives of people globally. The healthcare industry is undergoing serious changes due to the technical advancements of custom software development services. There are multiple reasons that make HIPAA-compliant healthcare-related applications appealing for patients as well as healthcare providers. The developers of these solutions also understand the regulations of patient security and privacy in terms of their medical data. Data breaches in the healthcare industry have emerged as a serious problem in recent years.

  • Users are relying more on social media platforms, and hence the companies are developing many online services in order to fulfill many aspects of patients’ lives.

  • The healthcare industry in the US and other regions is one of the highly profitable sectors. It generates the requirement to have a secure and accessible app solution globally.

  • Smartphones are extensively used for mHealth and telehealth solutions. They perform tasks like data sharing between doctors and patients, checking patient vitals, etc.

HIPAA is a huge legal document and it can take several weeks and months to figure out the regulations that are essential to integrate into healthcare applications. Custom software development services providers who create HIPAA-compliant healthcare applications are required to know the basics of the same. The following types of healthcare applications are required to be compliant with this regulatory measure:

  • Medical insurance applications

  • Medical loan businesses

  • Healthcare information databases

  • Hospital insurance applications

  • Hospital of clinical applications

What Are HIPAA-Compliant Healthcare Rules For Developing A Mobile Application?

A HIPAA-compliant healthcare solution requires the entities or stakeholders to facilitate patients with treatment. Complying with these norms is extremely important for a startup or a SaaS development company to be able to launch its solutions while dealing with sensitive clinical information. HIPAA in general highlights four major regulations to protect patients’ data, which are-

  • Security rule

  • Privacy rule

  • Breach notification rule

  • Enforcement rule

From the perspective of an application developer or company, the rule which is of maximum importance is that of security as it outlines multiple physical and technical measures that are required to fulfill the HIPAA compliance.

Physical Safeguards Required For A HIPAA-Compliant Healthcare Application

The physical safeguarding parameters deal with securing data network, backend network, and interconnected devices that can be compromised physically. This parameter also outlines the users having direct access to the Protected Health Information (PHI) data and access management. Generally, it deals with the below-mentioned aspects-

Facility Access Control- In healthcare IT solutions, the facility access control has the inclusion of setting up plants to manage network contingencies, security issues, access control procedures, and maintenance regulations. You can follow these basic steps in order to manage access controls:

  • The setting of the protocols for facility access control in case of any emergency assistance required under the disaster recovery protocols or any emergency operation protocol

  • Executing the policies that are required to secure the facility access and equipment from any unauthorized access and data theft

  • Implementing the policies to validate the request of the stakeholder to the facility access control based upon their role

  • Creating policies for modifications in physical premises in order to enhance security.

Device Controls- The steps that are required to manage device controls are-

  • Creating and implementing the policies that are at hardware or media disposal where the information gets stored

  • Executing the policies for eradicating data from media storage systems before using the device

  • Storing the movement of electronic media and hardware

  • Developing a replica of PHI prior to moving the system or equipment or backup

Workstation Security- Workstation security measures are inclusive of the below-mentioned steps-

  • Specifying the regulations in order to perform accurate functions along with dealing with PHI

  • Implementing the physical standards for workstations while accessing or restricting unauthorized access to the data

Technical Safeguards Required For HIPAA-Compliant Healthcare App Development

Technical safeguard measures redefine the actual workflow that is required in a HIPAA-compliant application. Some of its aspects that are worth implementing in the application to meet the technical measures are-

Access Control Requirements- Access control requirements refer to the practice of-

  • Assigning special user identification code name and number for tracking user identity

  • Establishing the healthcare policies for permitting the access required in case of emergency

  • Instant/automatic log-off procedure soon after the inactivity of the system for a certain amount of time

  • User authentication for verifying their identity

  • Encrypting or decrypting personal data

Transmission Security- A healthcare mobile app development company implements various transmission security measures, and the top ones that are worth considering in your HIPAA-compliant app solution are-

  • Implementing the required security measures to remove the chances of any unauthorized access or modification without user detection

  • Encrypting the data during transmission wherever required

Integrity And Audit- It imbibes specifications like-

  • Implementing hardware and software for workflow mechanism in order to examine the activities that are required to store the patient information

  • Making sure that data is not modified or erased without user authorization

The Rules That Are Required To Make A HIPAA-Compliant Healthcare Application

While developing a HIPAA-compliant healthcare application there are multiple requirements that a developer should abide by in their role. Let us take a look at each of these processes and learn how to create a HIPAA-compliant app:

Transporting The Encryption- It is mandatory for a HIPAA-compliant software solution to keep up with the health information encrypt in the transmissions. The first step that you have to follow is to achieve the same with the help of HTTP protocols and SSL security measures. In the case of client-server data transmission, the data has to be transmitted into the body of the whole POST requests. You can encrypt this request at first at the sender's end and decrypt them at the receiver's end. It helps to prevent potential man-in-the-middle attacks or breaches. Additionally, you can also transmit or store the valuable password in hash value in order to protect the data from getting compromised.

Backup- Make sure to partner with efficient hosting providers who can offer backup and recovery services for your HIPAA-compliant healthcare solution. it will help you to ensure that the healthcare data will not be lost in case of an accident or emergency. For example, if the software solution transmits the data somewhere else then the message will get quickly backed up on your device and it will get security stored until further activity.

Authorization- As you are conducting HIPAA-compliant healthcare software development you have to develop and upgrade the application in such a way that the authorization remains well protected. You can pay attention to some of the processes like auditing the access control and securing the application login so as to ensure that the data will only remain accessible to authorized individuals.

Integrity- While creating a HIPAA-compliant healthcare solution it is important to set up an accurate infrastructure that can ensure its collection, storage, and data transfer in a safe manner. The first step in this approach is to make sure that the whole security setup can detect or report any unauthorized access or data tampering. You can deploy measures like a regular backup, encryption, or access authorization by defining users with their privileges and role in addition to the physical restrictions for the application.

Storage Encryption- The major role of creating a HIPAA-compliant app is that the patient information must remain accessible only to the authorized personnel. Hence, as a SaaS development company, you must cover the aspects of software system development like backup, log, and databases. You can also apply an industry-standard encryption system with the help of reliable algorithms and strong keys to encrypt the data.

Read the blog- What services does a typical healthcare software development company provide?

Disposal- The disposal of the expired or outdated data of the healthcare application is extremely important. We make sure to dispose of unused healthcare data in a non-retrievable and safe manner.

Developing A HIPAA-Compliant Healthcare Application Solution

In this segment, you will get to know how to develop a HIPAA-compliant healthcare application under the scope of its regulations. The nuances and the buzz with this standard can get tricky for developers to incorporate into the solution and hence it is extremely important to consult the best service providers. Healthcare software development solutions or applications that are not HIPAA-compliant have multiple security risks or concerns. While developing an application, ensure to conduct a circumspect and holistic review at each stage of app development. Remember that security is a strategy but not an afterthought and the HIPAA guidelines follow the same approach. Let us walk you through the steps on how to develop a HIPAA-compliant healthcare app:

Get Specialists’ Help

You can hire a healthcare mobile app development company that has experience in developing the solution and make sure to not involve freelancers in the process. The whole process of developing mobile applications is complex and intricate. Moreover, considering the regulations that are put forth by the standards of HIPAA compliance will make you ask for expert help. You can always get assistance from experienced healthcare app developers as they have an understanding of developing high-end healthcare applications under various domains. You can either hire an in-house service provider or outsource the whole solution to third-party service providers.

Mitigating Risks

Any healthcare development company will have easy access to patient information, so in order to maintain the security of the accessible data, they store, transmit, share, or maintain the same through mobile applications. You can analyze or identify the application factors that come under the purview of HIPAA compliance. It is basically the first step towards developing a healthcare solution as per the database design. Once you have successfully mitigated the risks you can figure out what sort of data can be avoided or limited to share hands from the app solution.

  • Only store components that are required

  • Write a clear and transparent privacy policy

  • HIPAA-compliant healthcare cloud stack

  • Do not store the entire data on the device

Encrypting Stored Or Transmitted Data

For HIPAA-compliant healthcare app development, you can use the App Transport Security (ATS) measure to force the application directly to the link on https rather than encrypting the data in transition.

Fortifying The App Environment

Do not transfer the push notifications containing personal data of the patients because they are usually and secure. Thus the local session of the application must timeout after a particular time period. You can also isolate the application so that it gets virtually invisible as compared to other applications.

Security Testing

You can carry static or dynamic application security measures in your application and conduct similar tests so as to ensure its security.

  • You can conduct penetration testing of the application after every update for modifications

  • Hire a HIPAA-compliant professional to look into the application’s components and the documentation of your solution

  • Third-party protection audit is crucial for your application

Read the blog- The Ultimate Development Guide To Building A Healthcare Software In 2020

Developing The Application

In terms of physical and technical safeguard measures, you can move from planning on how to develop the application as the whole process requires following the HIPAA compliance guidelines. The technology stack also relies on the requirement and the overall complexity of the application. Usually, companies use the below-mentioned tech stack to create an app MVC-

  • Backend- Laravel

  • Frontend- VueJS, React

  • Mobile Development- Flutter, React Native

  • Database- AWS

Developing a HIPAA-compliant healthcare app is a polylithic process and when you look to develop the application in a scalable manner you will certainly understand reactive technologies. This type of technology solutions will help you to develop a perfect fit HIPAA-compliant measure.

1. The initial step is usually one where you have to gather information about the application along with understanding its platform-specific requirements. Now you can develop an application prototype and conduct its design phase. Post-development and design you can test the application to check its authenticity and performance (it is a crucial step to ensure the security of a HIPAA-compliant healthcare app)

2. Now you can pay attention to the application architecture in the whole development process. This will help you to understand the government requirements for the same.

3. Testing of the application is a vital aspect, and hence you must check the gateway or authorization process of the application. The security checkpoints of the applications must sync with the access controls in order to develop a HIPAA-compliant app.

The Bottom Line

For developing a HIPAA-compliant healthcare mobile app, it is extremely important to go through the regulations and guidelines because penalties for bypassing this law are massive. The rules for developing HIPAA-compliant applications are constantly changing and evolving in order to be more explicit. To make the audits less stressful you can document the whole application in the HIPAA standards. By integrating this compliance standard in your application you can easily protect patients’ data. There are various small healthcare companies or businesses that do not understand the act of HIPAA compliance in healthcare applications.