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HIPAA API Explained – Should You Set Up an API for Your Healthcare App or Service?

Editorial Team
by Atlantic.Net (219posts) under HIPAA Compliant Hosting
  • HIPAA APIs and The Rise of HIPAA-Compliant Mobile
  • The Essence of HIPAA Compliance
  • An API as a HIPAA Compliance Tool

HIPAA APIs and The Rise of HIPAA-Compliant Mobile

Why set up a HIPAA-compliant API? The third platform of cloud-delivered mobile allows users to pull in data from various locations (whether stored anywhere online or locally) so that they are operating with real-time knowledge. Although all IT decisions must be particularly conscientious in healthcare both because of compliance and the acceleration of hacking, wearables and other smart devices continue to grow in popularity – and setting up a HIPAA-compliant API could help you protect patient health information while also providing authorized access to vital health data.

Consumers using these devices want information to feed in seamlessly, as long as security is maintained. Healthcare providers in turn want access to the patient-generated health data (PGHD) on those devices so that they have a better picture of the patient’s day-to-day health to refine their recommendations.

According to the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act, a.k.a. HIPAA, any application that handles protected health information (PHI) of US citizens must be safeguarded with standardized encryption mechanisms and other protections in every scenario. Failure to use a HIPAA-compliant API can be disastrous for a firm’s bottom line and reputation.

“The key for health app developers—as well as a potential stumbling block—is to … take the necessary steps for safety and security,” explained Stuart Iler. “Making this determination can be complicated, and, if a company is found to be non-compliant …, the financial penalties can be significant.”

One way that developers and others working with data can achieve compliance at all times is through a healthcare-specific service that processes and stores all PHI in full compliance – as is necessary for all business associates (such as HIPAA Compliant Cloud Hosting Providers). APIs offer an incredible tool to work with healthcare data, provided they are established within healthcare-specific architecture.

The Essence of HIPAA Compliance

In order for any type of information to be considered PHI, it must have two characteristics:

  1. Individuals must be identifiable based on the information
  2. It has to be generated, used, or provided in a healthcare environment, such as tests conducted or diagnoses described on a medical chart.

Both covered entities and business associates must be compliant with HIPAA (the latter as of 2013). A covered entity is a healthcare company (hospitals, insurance companies, etc.), while a business associate is an external service (shredding companies, cloud service providers, etc.). Developers typically fall within the latter category as well, so a HIPAA-compliant API is advisable.

Now, remember that applications or systems must meet both of those above concerns to require compliance. Think of an application that tracks your diet or exercise schedule, for instance, for your own review. In that case, compliance is unnecessary.

“Even if the data can be linked to that particular person—and so would be considered personally identifiable information, or PII,” said Iler, “it is not considered PHI unless it is used or disclosed to a covered entity in the process of healthcare.”

Any applications that interact with PHI must comply with the healthcare law, regardless the overarching purpose of the app. In other words, in a healthcare setting, PII becomes PHI, and business associates that touch it must be compliant with HIPAA. It doesn’t matter where the data is stored. If a user shares eating habits with an app that a doctor uses to make dietary recommendations the next time they meet, HIPAA compliance is necessary.

Setting up a HIPAA-compliant API helps to meet the physical and technical components of federal compliance, but you still must be concerned with administrative rules. These include designating a compliance officer, training your staff regularly, and bringing all policies into line with the law. Although HIPAA does not suggest exactly how the policies and procedures should be designed, since that will vary, the law does stipulate that you should review them and update them as needed.

One of the main concerns of developers using HIPAA APIs is that the expectations of their customer are different. You will find that there is much less focus on usability and attractiveness of the design, with primary emphasis on privacy, security, and compliance (with the first two falling under the heading of the third).

HIPAA API – An API as a HIPAA Compliance Tool

An API can make it easier to meet the requirements of the law. “APIs present an interesting mechanism by which health app creators can achieve HIPAA compliance,” explained Iler. “[A]n API not only provides a consistent and well-structured way to store and retrieve health data, but also the encryption, security and other protocols required by the rules.”

As wearables continue to gain traction, wise developers will consider meeting healthcare compliance as a way to meet growing need. Although federal regulations can lead to fines, making the industry trickier than most others, that also opens up possibilities for innovation.

A HIPAA-compliant API can facilitate innovation by controlling for compliance concerns. Atlantic.Net is your partner for healthcare hosting with state-of-the-art HIPAA Servers. We are audited for HIPAA and HITECH, and certified for Service Organization Control (SOC).

We hope you found this article interesting and valuable. We have a host of interesting HIPAA related articles, such as SSAE 16, SSAE18, SOC 1, SOC2: What they are and why you should care and What are e-Health Applications? in our blog.

By Moazzam Adnan

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