5 ways to make your software HIPAA compliant

Sara Ana Cemazar
February 1, 2022
min read

HIPAA compliance is a must-have for healthcare-related organizations and their vendors. To do business in a secure manner and minimize the risk of exposing patients’ personal information, healthcare providers, insurance companies, and Health Tech organizations are looking to use software that ensures they adhere to HIPAA guidelines.

In this article, we bring you the checklist to make sure your software is HIPAA compliant as well as actions to undertake to comply with HIPAA.

➡️ Before you continue, get our guide on providing exceptional patient experience with an in-app chat.

What is HIPAA compliant software?

HIPAA compliant software incorporates all the HIPAA guidelines for secure handling of patients’ PHI (Protected Health Information).

However, the term is misused: there is no such thing as a HIPAA compliant software. What is usually meant by this is software that is adjusted to make you, your colleagues, and your company HIPAA compliant.

An example is a HIPAA-compliant chat. It refers to solutions used in healthcare-related businesses to talk to enable secure patient messaging and collaboration with medical and non-medical personnel but without risking exposure of sensitive patients’ data.

We can't stress this enough: it’s important to understand that no software can guarantee HIPAA compliance. You can get a HIPAA-compliance checklist and advice on how to modify your software to make sure you’re HIPAA compliant. But, acting within HIPAA-compliant range also includes training your staff, because the majority of HIPAA violations happen due to unintentional human error.

However, being compliant with HIPAA is the sole responsibility of the software users who need to ensure that the app at hand is used according to HIPAA guidelines.

HIPAA compliance software vs. HIPAA compliant software

Before we dig into the article, let's clarify the distinction between terms HIPAA compliance software and HIPAA compliant software. The two terms don't have the same meaning.

The first one, HIPAA compliance software, refers to a service supported by software that helps organizations achieve HIPAA compliance. The software can check parts of your current system for HIPAA compliance, spot the gaps, and help you achieve full HIPAA compliance.

On the other side, HIPAA compliant software marks an app, solution, platform or software that meets HIPAA compliance requirements, meaning that its features enable organizations to respect HIPAA guidelines.

What makes software HIPAA compliant?

HIPAA compliance guidelines refer to several areas of patients’ data protection. They include specific guidelines for data protection and for notifying upon security breaches. The software you use needs to be set up in a way to follows HIPAA guidelines.

Here is the checklist for building HIPAA compliant software:

1. Access controls

The goal of HIPAA is to prevent misuse of PHI. Therefore, HIPAA guidelines say that parties handling PHI should only see the “minimum necessary” information to perform their duties. With access control, you are allowing different levels of access to patients’ data, thus decreasing the potential misuse of information.

This is crucial since research shows that 88% of all data breaches in organizations happen due to human error.

hipaa compliant software

When talking about access controls in HIPAA compliant software, it’s vital to mention authentication methods. Multi-factor authentication, automatic log-off, and using complex passwords are some of the methods to ensure your organizations’ data security.

2. End-to-end encryption

HIPAA compliant software calls for encryption of PHI at rest. 256-bit AES encryption is the industry standard and it’s vital to go for solutions that incorporate this functionality.

According to Entrust, only 42% of global organizations are using encryption to protect customer data. In the healthcare industry, this is simply not an option. HIPAA guidelines are very strict about this.

Encryption is also a standard way to protect the information in transfer. For example, if you’re using a healthcare communication solution, it should be encrypted. All the HIPAA-compliant messaging tools encrypt data in transfer.

➡️ Also, check out the best encrypted messaging apps for secure business communication.

3. Activity monitoring

HIPAA compliant software needs to hold records of PHI-related activities for six years. To automate the activity monitoring, the HIPAA compliant software needs to automatically record all login attempts, including unsuccessful ones, logins from unusual devices and locations.

4. Emergency measures

HIPAA specifies not only the privacy and security rules but also the breach notification rule. When an emergency situation like a data breach occurs, you need to follow specific procedures in accordance with HIPAA.

Therefore, HIPAA compliant software should be set up to regularly back up data. It should also be able to restore critical business data and PHI in emergency events.

5. Physical storage security

HIPAA compliant software should store data in a secure storage environment. This includes the physical location of data storage, which must be within the US.

Cloud storage solutions like Google Cloud Storage, Amazon Web Services, and Azure are one of the most popular choices for healthcare-related businesses. However, organizations in the healthcare industry often opt for on-premise deployment. To be exact, 54% of all solutions implemented in healthcare in 2019 were on-prem.

hipaa compliant software

On-premise deployments give organizations total control over their data and are a great way to fortify HIPAA compliance. 

5 ways to ensure HIPAA compliance

1. Regular audits 

To prevent HIPAA breaches, you should regularly perform internal audits. Auditing the way you adhere to the policies and what your emergency procedures are will help you estimate to what extent does your software incorporates HIPAA compliance.

After the auditing process, you should know the following:

  • Where is your business-critical data and PHI stored
  • If you share PHI with third parties, is it done in accordance with HIPAA
  • Does your software record all the login attempts
  • Has there been any security incidents and how were they prevented
  • Test security mechanisms that should activate in a case of a data security breach

2. Increase cybersecurity

According to Deloitte, companies spend around 10% of their annual IT budget on cybersecurity. Although the percentage is getting higher every year, it’s still a long way from the ideal.

hipaa compliant software

To compliment your HIPAA compliant software, you should strengthen your cybersecurity:

  • Reinforce your secure password policy and multi-factor authentication
  • Enable automatic log-off
  • Use anti-virus protection and firewall
  • Extend the security measures to mobile devices
  • Use safe wifi networks or VPN software.

3. Invest in employee training

As mentioned earlier, a majority of data security breaches happen due to human error. This means that HIPAA-compliant software isn’t worth much if operated by individuals who don’t know how to handle PHI and other sensitive data.

This is what you should include in your employee training:

  • What data does HIPAA cover
  • Why should PHI be protected (data privacy basics)
  • How is data protected
  • Real-life examples: phishing attempts, exchanging information in a secure manner, handling medical identity theft

4. Regularly assess internal policies

Software used in healthcare should be made to adhere to HIPAA guidelines. However, as mentioned before, human actions will define if a business operates under HIPAA guidelines or not.

Therefore, internal policies that specify actions that need to be taken in different cases such as data security breaches or attempts are vital. As technology advances and businesses adopt more of it, internal security policies need to be updated, too.

In other words, your employees should always be able to rely on clear and specific instructions regarding HIPAA compliance.

5. Extend audits and controls to partnering organizations

Healthcare-related businesses rarely use self-developed HIPAA compliant software. Instead, they acquire it from vendors. Moreover, to improve their services, healthcare organizations often cooperate with partnering companies.

It’s crucial to know that business associates are also subject to HIPAA. Before entering a partnership, organizations must sign a Business Associate Contract with partnering businesses. It should outline how the PHI is used by partnering organizations such as IT consultants, healthcare software vendors, email service providers, and more. 

Stay HIPAA-compliant with Rocket.Chat

For healthcare providers, insurance companies, and Health Tech providers, HIPAA compliance is a must. However, this shouldn’t stop them to implement digital communication best practices.

As per research, 57% of patients expect their medical providers to offer digital capabilities. In-app chat and live web chat, both with integrated chatbots, are a great way to support your patients while automating their many inquiries.

However, organizations shouldn't hurry to introduce patient chat capabilities without necessary safeguards. For example, neither Slack nor WhatsApp are suitable solutions for communication in healthcare organizations. Instead, businesses should opt for more secure solutions built with healthcare and HIPAA compliance in mind.

Rocket.Chat’s solution for healthcare enables healthcare-related businesses to support their patients, but it also does much more. This healthcare messaging app allows medical experts to easily collaborate with their colleagues - inside and outside of their organization.

Rocket.Chat improves operational efficiency for healthcare-related businesses while adhering to HIPAA guidelines and incorporating other security measures.

Get in touch with our team to learn more about our HIPAA-ready messaging app.

Get started with Rocket.Chat’s secure collaboration platform

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Sara is an SEO Strategist at Rocket.Chat. She is passionate about topics around digital transformation, workplace experience, open source, and data privacy and security.
Sara Ana Cemazar
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