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Product Strategy

How to develop a HIPAA compliant telemedicine solution

Nisha Gopinath Menon
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April 14, 2022

The remote or online delivery of health services using the telecommunications infrastructure is not only convenient for healthcare providers and patients alike and is comparatively cost-effective. It saves the professionals from being physically present for consultations and appointments at their clinics. It gives patients the freedom to access medical aid at any location, from their choice of doctor.

However, before HIPAA (Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act), the one drawback of telemedicine used to be the consistent threat to personal information that was shared online. Due to this, customers were often uncertain about choosing online consultations.

But with the series of rules and regulations for protecting sensitive medical data or protected health information (PHI), the popularity of telemedicine grew exponentially.

The HIPAA regulations for telemedicine are as follows:

  • Access to e-PHI is only granted to authorized users of the application
  • A system of secure communication must be implemented to protect e-PHI
  • Monitoring all systems containing e-PHI is essential to prevent security breaches.

We understand how crucial it is for telehealth providers to follow HIPAA regulations to safeguard the PHI and grow their business. We follow a set of self-curated guidelines to develop HIPAA-compliant telemedicine solutions for our clients. Click here to know more.

Common Violations of PHI in Telemedicine

Personal data of patients is under constant threat if the telehealth platform is not HIPAA compliant. Sensitive data can be hacked, stolen, and misused. Here are some common infringements in telemedicine platforms:

1. EHR Breach

Network protection is essential while handling EHR (Electronic Health Records). Failure to develop a solid and secured network can result in an EHR breach, exposure to unwanted people, or data loss during processing. Running risk assessments and utilizing data encryption are beneficial solutions for telehealth software developers to avoid non-compliance with patient EHR.

2. Hacking

e-PHI is a frequent target of hackers since it is valuable, has a long shelf-life, and can be used to buy prescription drugs illegally and sold on the black market or the dark web at exorbitant prices. Investing in a firewall for all systems containing EHRs, or automated antiviral software is recommended to help detect data threats and take action.

3. Ransom Attack

Ransomware is malware that threatens the user to pay ransom to release the hacked data or gain full access to the information. To prevent ransom attacks, use ransomware detection antivirus software with removal abilities.

4. Sending PHI to the wrong recipient

Even if your telehealth platform has a secure network, you can avoid manual errors altogether. There are many instances where PHI is sent to the wrong person, and user privacy gets accidentally violated. Apart from crosschecking every step while transferring patient records, a recipient verification portal can be implemented in the telemedicine platform. This will help reduce manual errors and ensure a secure data transfer.

Practices to develop a HIPAA compliant telehealth solution

To develop a HIPAA-compliant solution for your telemedicine practice, it is important to research and analyze your online business model. Although each application requires different methods to ensure compliance, there are some standard processes that you can universally consider:

1. Encryption

Encryption translates data from plaintext to ciphertext, making it impossible for hackers to reuse or read it. It is a significant investment since it requires an extensive network workload and advanced infrastructure, but it provides utmost security to the PHI.

Since telemedicine platforms use video-conferencing and audio calling, it is vital to ensure that telehealth solution developers implement data encryption for the transmission of this data as well.

2. Appropriate Data Storage

Avoid storing unnecessary data or temporary information that you know will not be needed by your clients or healthcare providers in the future.

Storing the data of tests that have gone obsolete or reports of patients that have passed away or no longer use your services can count as unwanted data. This is recommended because unnecessary data can often make it easier for hackers to exploit it or find ways to access important information through it.

Deleting old records also helps in creating space in your storage servers. It is an excellent practice to manage, monitor, and maintain databases. Additionally, remember to keep a check of duplicate records in the database. These occur due to bugs in the system, poor management of storage, manual errors, and a lag in the back-end architecture.

3. Secure In-App Connection

While developing your personal in-app, make sure to add HIPAA compliant messaging portal or video conferencing portal. A special communication platform for your telemedicine portal ensures your communication with your clients is secure and not bugged or easy to hack in the future.

Another option you can opt for is to choose a paid, third-party provider for communication under a special security agreement instead of choosing online communication platforms like Skype, Zoom, Google Meet, etc.

Cloud-based, open communication platforms are terrible choices since these applications are not secure, thus putting EHRs and other patient-related information in cyber threat.

4. Controlled Access

Building a flexible system that defines user roles and authorizes a particular chunk of information to authorized employees only is important to develop a HIPAA compliant telehealth solution for healthcare providers.

Your platform can have data access policies that ask for user authentication before releasing essential EHRs or other data. Users can confirm their identities by one-time passwords (OTPs), biometrics, voice or face recognition, security questions, or complex passwords.

5. Monitored Authorization

A log file containing all the successful and failed authorizations into the database and telehealth portal can help you detect suspicious activity. You can also set up a system of blocking an account after multiple attempts. It may not seem user-friendly but will help protect sensitive data from hacking.

6. Creating Data Backup

Create a secure and protected backup server for essential files, and vulnerable customer data to use in cases of hijacking or other casualties. However, it is not advised to backup all the data on your system. Instead, draft a security policy to state the kind of information that needs to be backed up.

Conclusion

Cyber theft and exploitation of sensitive data are prevalent today. However, with the implementation of HIPAA guidelines in telemedicine solutions, disclosing important data on such platforms has become relatively easy and secure for customers.

At CognitiveClouds, we are well versed in the guidelines to protect a telehealth platform’s PHI. We are adept at developing secure applications and look forward to guiding you through the ups of protecting sensitive data from theft and exploitation. Click here to schedule a call with our development team for more information.

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Nisha Gopinath Menon
Bangalore