How To Create HIPAA-Compliant Custom SoftwareMay 3, 2022 No Comments
Featured article by William Jacobs, IT specialist
Software development consists of numerous stages. Design, coding, testing, implementation, and deployment are just a few examples, with each stage posing several challenges to developers.
While that may be the case, developers can use tools and programs to streamline these stages. The deployment stage, for example, can be handled smoothly with software deployment tools. Unfortunately, that’s often not possible with compliance—a stage in software development where developers must make sure the product complies with the industry codes and standards. In particular, developers struggle to ensure their custom software is HIPAA-compliant.
A brief overview of HIPAA compliance
When a construction company builds a structure, it follows certain rules and regulations set by the industry. These are known as compliance requirements. For example, the company must ensure the building has sufficient fireproofing materials to guarantee the safety of the inhabitants. Otherwise, there’s a risk of lawsuits and claims that may lead to expenses. (1)
Similarly, when a team develops custom software, it must follow industry standards. Although there are a handful of standards, HIPAA compliance is one that stands out.
The Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act (HIPAA) is a set of requirements that ensures the safety of patient data. It encourages companies to establish security measures to ensure patient data doesn’t fall into the wrong hands. The HIPAA compliance requirements are mainly exercised in healthcare facilities, specifically in their IT systems. (1)
Naturally, if your custom software handles patient data, you must also ensure your custom software is HIPAA-compliant. Sadly, as stated earlier, there are no tools that can accurately and automatically make changes to your software, so it complies with these standards.
Thus, many just hire a company to develop healthcare software. However, if you wish to do it yourself, you must first understand what it means to be HIPAA-compliant.
HIPAA compliance checklist
Compliance with HIPAA consists of several requirements. Only by accomplishing these can you truly say you or your team have successfully developed HIPAA-compliant custom software.
In that regard, here’s a look at the general requirements:
- Data must have sufficient or reasonable protection against unauthorized access
- Data must be safe from modifications or deletion by unauthorized persons
- Data must be easily accessible by authorized persons
- Data must only be fully modifiable by those with vital roles (e.g., doctors, IT, etc.)
You may also add other measures if you wish to. With these in mind, here are some tips to ensure HIPAA compliance of your software
1. Encrypt data during transmissions
Most software operates via data transmissions. Electronic health record (EHR) systems, for example, transmit data from the computer into the database via computer networks.
Unfortunately, data is most vulnerable during transmissions. After all, unlike your software, computer networks have limited security. Therefore, cybercriminals can very easily access patient data during transmissions. That’s where encryption comes into play. (2)
While you can’t improve the security of computer networks, you can, at least, make it so your data is unreadable during transmission. This is the main idea behind encryption.
By converting the patient data into an unreadable format, hackers cannot use it for malicious intent even after getting hold of the data. This will ensure sufficient protection against unauthorized access to patient data, which is one requirement of HIPAA compliance. (2)
2. Establish a built-in backup system
The next requirement is to ensure patient data is safe from modifications and, most importantly, deletion. As you cannot guarantee a 0% chance of infiltration, it’s a good idea to establish a backup system on your software. With this feature, you don’t have to worry about permanent deletion, as you can very easily recover the files with a backup.
3. Restrict access to the software
You can fulfill the third requirement by simply creating a user-friendly interface that authorized personnel can easily navigate. However, on top of that, you must also restrict unauthorized logins to the software with various security measures. Examples of such measures include:
- Multi-factor authentication to ensure the identity of users
- Automatic logouts to avoid unauthorized access to public computers
- Restrict access to only certain IP addresses
4. Implement role-based access control
As for the last requirement, you can implement role-based access control.
Role-based access control is a system where you create roles and grant varying permissions to each one. For example, you can create the role of “developer” and grant it permission to delete files. Similarly, you can create the role of “nurse” and grant viewer-only access to the software.
By doing so, you can prevent issues wherein one of the people with access to the software falls for the schemes and leaks their login credentials. When that happens, at the very least, hackers would only gain limited access to the software and would be unable to wreak havoc on the system.
Compliance has always been one of the struggles of software developers. After all, it’s not something they do for every one of their projects. Compliance with HIPAA, in particular, is exclusive to medical software. But as uncommon as it may be, ensuring your custom software is HIPAA compliant is actually rather straightforward. After all, it involves data security which, unlike compliance, is something software developers are familiar with.
William Jacobs is an IT specialist with more than 10 years of experience in the industry. He shares his knowledge in evaluating software through guest posts. During his free time, William enjoys hiking and mountain climbing.
1. “What is HIPAA Compliance?”, Source: https://digitalguardian.com/blog/what-hipaa-compliance
2. “What is Data Encryption?”, Source: https://www.forcepoint.com/cyber-edu/data-encryption
3. “Role-Based Access Control (RBAC)”, Source: https://www.imperva.com/learn/data-security/role-based-access-control-rbac/
DIGITAL HEALTH, SOCIAL BUSINESS