Why HIPAA Compliance is a Must for Telehealth Application Development

The threat of hackers stealing data from healthcare organizations has been raising eyebrows within the government for years. And that is why each healthcare software solution dealing with any type of patient information, including telemedicine apps, must comply with specific rules. Namely, the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act (HIPAA) is the primary regulation for using patient data and sanctioning violators of said rules in the United States. 

You have to consider HIPAA for your telehealth application to function correctly and ensure the security of patient data. Today, we will look closely at what HIPAA compliance means for your telehealth solution and why you must ensure it is HIPAA-compliant.

What Are the Advantages of Telemedicine in Healthcare?

When COVID-19 hit the world, healthcare providers turned to telehealth apps as a solution that would reduce the need for doctor’s office visits and help with remote health monitoring. Remote healthcare delivery has already become a norm for millions of people. For example, the global remote patient monitoring market will grow dramatically throughout the decade, reaching a total value of $175 billion by 2030 compared to $53 billion in 2022 at a CAGR of 26.7%.

Global remote care market value forecast 
Figure 1. Global remote care market value forecast 

At the same time, increasing amounts of sensitive patient data have been poured into the digital domain. As a result, hackers have stolen or otherwise compromised countless terabytes of sensitive information over the past years. Healthcare is an inherently innovative industry as it constantly pushes toward making care more accessible and efficient. 

Advanced telehealth solutions took center stage when the world faced the most significant public health threat in the 21st century. They still produce a powerful impact on the quality of life for people worldwide. Accessing healthcare services from the comfort of one’s home eliminates the need to visit the doctor’s office for non-emergency patients. 

Apart from connecting patients and healthcare practitioners, telehealth applications contain relevant patient data. That way, clinical staff with access to the record can instantly obtain the necessary information regarding the patient’s condition at any location. Cloud-based telehealth grants physicians speed and agility to react to patients’ requests and changes in their condition and share this information with other healthcare practitioners. 

Ultimately, telehealth applications can be further enhanced with predictive analytics tools for better prescriptions, patient tracking, alerts, notifications, and more.

Three Reasons Why Ignoring HIPAA Compliance is Not an Option

Congress passed HIPAA in 1996. Since then, the law has protected sensitive patient data from unlawful disclosure. As telehealth apps process this information, they are subject to HIPAA regulations and are treated as such. That raises many challenges for healthcare vendors that use telemedicine software platforms.

Legal Obligations and Fines

HIPAA enforces mandatory standards upon all the covered companies or entities, basically any organization dealing with patient health information. These standards automatically translate into fines for the breach of compliance. HIPAA compliance violation must be a severe concern for any healthcare organization, as the penalties ranged from just $127 to $1,9 million in 2022. 

HIPAA compliance violation penalty
Figure 2. HIPAA compliance violation penalty

More so, willful neglect of the rules may lead to dire consequences for individual physicians. Unlawful use of patient data with malicious intent can result in severe legal outcomes that may sometimes include a jail sentence. 

Obviously, with the price of compliance breach being this steep, you must work with a telehealth application development partner that can ensure thorough adherence to the rules. Not only your development team has to comply with HIPAA rules for handling sensitive data. It must also have the tech expertise to put your telehealth app together and guarantee its smooth performance. 

Patient Data Privacy

A health record contains sensitive information about an individual, and a breach of privacy can be a rather alarming and dangerous occurrence. Using any telehealth application that does not comply with HIPAA rules can put that private data at risk exposing it to hackers and fraudsters. That is why putting compliance as one of your top priorities during telehealth application development is as crucial for proper patient care as the technical sharpness of your app. 

Reputational Damage

The outcomes of privacy breaches or malicious use of patient data can devastate your reputation. Apart from fines imposed by HIPAA, healthcare organizations have to deal with public relations. In case of a massive disclosure of patient data, the reputational damage can be immense, and for private clinics, it may even lead to the termination of business. 

At SPsoft, we cannot stress the importance of compliance, as it defines your organization’s security in the long run. From securing the clinic’s reputation to preventing penalties and dire legal outcomes, making sure telemedicine software platforms are HIPAA-compliant is a must for any healthcare organization.

Technical Requirements: What Makes a HIPAA-Compliant Telehealth Solution?

After we have established that switching to HIPAA-compliant telemedicine software platforms is a must for any healthcare organization, we should look at the general technical requirements for such platforms. Details may vary from one telehealth application to the next, as they have slightly different functions. However, the most important technical requirements are as follows: 

Data Encryption

Patient data encryption is the most effective measure for preventing disclosure or unlawful access to sensitive information. Proper encryption makes it impossible for malicious agents to access the data, and even if they could do that, they would not be able to read it or use it in any meaningful way. 

HIPAA compliance requires encrypting data in transit and data at rest. The sole argument against encryption is that it can impact the application’s performance. However, if you work with a reliable and experienced telehealth application development partner, it can mitigate this problem with proper software architecture design. 

Access Control

Another mandatory requirement for advanced telehealth solutions is access control. Namely, users must obtain access to the necessary information required to perform their direct duties only. A system must be able to assign different user roles to different individuals within the organization. In other words, a nurse would have access to various chunks of patient health records than a doctor, and vice versa. Access control must also be adequately protected, allowing for such functions as automatic log-off or user blocks. 

Activity Monitoring

Keeping telemedicine software platforms HIPAA-compliant requires constant monitoring of user activity. It mainly helps investigate data leaks and prevent them through user activity tracking and alerts. For instance, if any user leaks information, either by accident or with malicious intent, you can quickly identify the user, block them, and prevent data leaks before they harm. 

This feature can also help deal with the legal outcomes of the violation. HIPAA acknowledges the effort to prevent leaks and reduce their impact and might not penalize organizations that took reasonable steps to stop information breaches. 

Putting It Together: Must-Have Features of HIPAA-Compliant Telehealth 

Building HIPAA-compliant telemedicine software platforms requires implementing several essential features that set up the foundation of your app’s security. Laying the groundwork for a HIPAA-compliant telehealth application can make a world of difference in the long-term performance of your product. The primary security features for remote healthcare delivery are the following:

Essential components of HIPAA-compliant telehealth
  • Authorization. Passwords must protect any HIPAA-compliant telehealth application. Administrators must also have access to log-in monitoring.
  • Editing capabilities. Authorized users should have access to data editing capabilities to update the patient record. Additionally, editing capabilities must only be available to users with the proper access level.
  • Automatic log-off. This feature is vital for preventing access to unattended devices. The administrators must have the ability to change the automatic log-off time.
  • Web app protection. The Web Application Firewall must protect web telemedicine software platforms. This feature helps with blocking malicious intrusions into the system.
  • Deletion policies. These policies define the conditions under which the organization may delete patient data. For instance, if the patient deletes an app, if the patient no longer requires the services of a particular hospital or if other circumstances render health records either irrelevant or restricted.
  • Data backups. Advanced telehealth solutions must have backup storage in case an electronic health record is accidentally or unlawfully deleted.
  • Storage and communication encryption. You must appropriately encrypt all patient data stored on a cloud or in transit (during messaging or calls).
  • Emergency mode. The application must contain a feature for both internal and external emergencies. For instance, you can set a specific emergency mode for administrators in case any information breach occurs. Or you can set another specific mode for patients and clinical staff if the patient requires emergency care.

Final Thoughts

Telehealth applications have proven their efficiency during the pandemic, and they continue to deliver immense value. Over the past few years, the world has learned that many services and tasks can be performed remotely, and doctor visits are no exception. We must pay much closer attention to how we treat our data once it gets out in the open. 

Regulations like HIPAA exist to ensure every healthcare organization is diligent in protecting patient data, which is precisely why you need a telehealth application development partner who can guarantee regulatory compliance. That way, your doctors and patients will be sure their data is safe, while you will be sure your organization is protected from possible legal outcomes of a compliance breach. 

SPsoft, as a reliable healthcare software development partner, can guarantee quality for your telehealth application development project, secure patient data, and ensure compliance with HIPAA standards. 

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