One of the most controversial topics in the US today is healthcare. Many feel it’s a fundamental right while others support the “pay to play model.” Aside from the funding debate, there are other issues matters that complicate healthcare matters.
Here, citizens and providers are subjected to HIPAA which gives patients certain rights to privacy by making providers accountable for the information they’re required to safeguard. As a provider, you surely want to protect your patient’s information but navigating this landscape can prove challenging. Let’s take a look at the framework for meeting HIPPA compliance and cover questions that you should ask development teams building software for your organization.
What is HIPAA compliance?
If you’re in the industry, you realize HIPAA is perhaps more binding than the ancient Hippocratic Oath. In this digital world we’re learning to navigate, policies binding patient data is almost as important as the services you provide.
Providers are required to be more mindful of patient information and rightfully so. This means not discussing health-related information in earshot of others, being mindful of any kind of “sign-in” sheet at a practice, and safeguarding their digital data.
In 2009, the HITECH ACT was initiated to move the ball forward on a couple of issues. Healthcare providers are now required to utilize a secure EHR system to retain patient records. The point behind the act is making patient records easier to access but also securing them at the safe time to prevent unauthorized access to said confidential records.
On the surface, it seems like a bit of a paradox – records need to have the capacity to more efficiently transfer between providers. But too, patient information needs to be safeguarded to prevent (and ideally, eliminate) the possibility of some onlooker gaining access to sensitive information, whether it’s someone who might peek at a chart or a scumbag who breaks into a database.
The caveat for healthcare app developers
This has presented unique obstacles for those of us in the industry of app development. One of the issues we covered previously is that PHI (Protected Health Information) isn’t well-defined. This ambiguity can make development a hassle as meeting standards are difficult when such things are poorly defined.
As developers, it almost feels like being set up for failure because of the lacking formalities.
While many projects seem to be wrought with pitfalls, there are certain practices that effectively alleviate such concerns. Truly, with any development project, you should always have user information in your best interest. Even though medical information is subject to harsher scrutiny (i.e. HIPAA violation fines) good coding practices circumvent most of these issues.
The basics of building a healthcare app
In many respects, a solid healthcare app has many of the same requirements as any other app that allows “public users” to access information from anywhere. The main issue is that if things go haywire, there are typically bigger concerns than when information regulated by other agencies is revealed to the masses or accessed by a hacker.
For healthcare sites and apps, these are the most important considerations when working with developers:
Secure your website and backend systems. Your typical healthcare app references databases that are likely also used by your website. This is the starting point in ensuring patient data is safeguarded from threats running amuck on the web. You can find the best developers in the world to make your healthcare app but if your site and security policies are garbage, you’re simply increasing the attack surface for evildoers. Start with an audit of your existing systems before making any serious decisions.
There are both Azure HIPAA and AWS HIPAA templates that allow devs to build compliant infrastructure. It’s also important that your systems can be easily audited – missing records, fudged figures and other shortcomings don’t look good. It’s best to stick with a tried-and-true setup rather than trying to reinvent the wheel as small oversight can turn into big fines.
Think about the user experience (UX) for all demographics. Younger patients will typically be able to figure out how to navigate an app interface with ease. For older folks who might not be as technologically savvy, this can be an issue. Ideally, start with a Design Sprint and think about your less technical users – try to incorporate those who are less knowledgeable about technology in your test group. See how they interact with the app and make adjustments accordingly.
Spend extra time on the QA process. There is a twofold benefit here – this helps ensure the app functions as expected as well as helps identify and correct potential threats. You won’t always see certain issues on your first or second pass when reviewing code or testing an app. When you’re building an app for healthcare, ensuring everything is airtight as possible will help maintain trust among your client base as well as prevents costly HIPAA violation fines.
Build with scalable systems that accommodate 3rd party integrations. Unless you’re planning on building everything from the ground up (which is a terrible idea) then developers need to think about using frameworks that play nicely with various technologies. A great example of something we’ve done in the past is integrating with Athena Health’s EMR – they have a great JSON REST API that should feel familiar to most experienced developers, plus it can securely call on data such that it meets HIPAA compliance. Avoid using obscure or technology that’s soon to be obsolete as this will cause headaches in the very near future.
Avoid overthinking your new features. In almost any endeavor, it’s easy to get carried away with entertaining new ideas. In the case of mobile apps, some try to “over innovate” their software for various reasons whether it’s to try to leverage such a system for marketing or simply out of passion. The reality is that most people just want access to their information, the capability to schedule appointments, secure messaging with providers to answer simple questions (AI bots are helpful here) and other seemingly less sophisticated features. Spend time investing in improving your existing features to avoid getting carried away on an expensive feature that won’t be utilized.
Basically, be flexible in your design as this allows you to accommodate a wider variety of user preferences and models. This concept falls back on the Eli Whitney model of interchangeable parts – don’t build something that’s so specific it can only be used in specialized scenarios.
Blue Label Labs can build your healthcare app
We have substantial experience in building not only your run-of-the-mill mobile app but software for the medical industry which is subjected to stringent data protection requirements. Blue Label Labs has successfully produced apps for healthcare that meet HIPAA compliance.
Get in touch with us to learn how we can develop a great app for your healthcare business!
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