Atlantic.Net Blog

Top Considerations While Designing A HIPAA Compliant Website

U.S. healthcare providers rely on their websites to provide essential patient services. If you are starting with your first website or adding new functionality, it’s vital to keep the legislative requirements of HIPAA compliance at the forefront of the design process. Healthcare practices typically offer a wide range of services online, including telemedicine, live chat, patient portals, and tools for booking and reviewing appointments.

Naturally, patient data is needed to make the service meaningful. As a result, Protected Health Information (PHI) is collected, stored, and transmitted via the website. There are strict rules about managing electronic PHI (ePHI), with the covered entity and business associates being responsible for correctly implementing the required physical, technical and administrative safeguards of HIPAA.

This article will introduce the fundamental design requirements to keep your website HIPAA compliant. This includes the top considerations for application design and the mandatory requirements of the hosting environment.

High-Level Overview

The necessary safeguards of HIPAA apply to the entire website design process. This includes the appropriate rules for the software application code and hardware restrictions for the web server configuration, the network stack, and all other components that make up the hosting environment.

A HIPAA-compliant website requires adherence to hundreds of rules, so outsourcing to a HIPAA-compliant hosting provider is popular. Outsourcing reduces the compliance burden, as the healthcare client plugs into the HIPAA-compliant platform. In addition, this frees up resources, allowing you to focus on website design.

What Design Rules are Mandatory to be HIPAA-Compliant

If you want your website to be HIPAA-compliant, you must oversee every detail of the design process, including how the underlying infrastructure is protected.

Administrative Preparation:

  • Risk Assessment – Before designing the site, you must perform a risk assessment. The audit looks at any existing environment. If you outsource the website design to an agency, they should cover their products and design principles and identify how PHI data flows through the application.
  • Create an Action Plan – The risk assessment will identify gaps in the healthcare practice’s HIPAA-compliant status, for example, whether the infrastructure meets HIPAA standards. You can engage a HIPAA-compliant hosting partner like Atlantic.net. The action plan is a roadmap for achieving a HIPAA-compliant website.
  • Hire a HIPAA Specialist – Compliance is complicated, and hiring a seasoned professional can streamline the entire project lifecycle.
  • Sign a Business Associate Agreement – After all the groundwork has been completed it is essential to get a BAA signed by all business associates. This will typically be the website design agency, the hosting provider, and all subcontractors that ‘touch’ PHI.

Website Design Requirements:

  • User Authentication – Each user has a private account that adheres to the principle of least privilege, where access is only granted to the required PHI. Therefore, only the patient can view their own PHI records. Likewise, website administrators should have no access to any sensitive data.
  • Access Controls – Each website user is assigned a centrally-controlled unique username, password, and multi-factor authentication to access the website. A strong password policy that enforces complex passwords and regular password changes is recommended. Procedures must also be in place to govern when access requests are made to release or disclose ePHI during an emergency.
  • Data Backup – The website configuration should be backed up regularly and copied to a secured offsite location. Infrastructure backups are also routinely required, and all backups must be encrypted and secured with access controls.
  • Disaster Recovery Capabilities – One of the most challenging aspects of HIPAA is that the patients have the right to access their files at all times. As a result, data must be redundant, and website applications should incorporate high availability and failover capabilities. In addition, the site must be able to tolerate failure without crashing or freezing.
  • Automated Logout – Website users must be logged out after a set time frame, usually up to 3 minutes, depending on the application or system.
  • Encryption – The website needs to support encryption throughout the application. Encrypt PHI to a minimum of AES256 cipher protection; when data traverses the stack, it must be encrypted at all layers.

Infrastructure Design Requirements:

  • Network Encryption – Encrypt access to ePHI using NIST cryptographic standards to encrypt network traffic. Secure the site with TLS certificates to ensure all traffic is encapsulated with a proven security cipher.
  • Defend the Network – The network stack requires a Web Application Firewall. The WAF is a simple web application firewall service that controls how traffic reaches and traverses your application stack. In addition, the WAF protects against common exploits and threats like SQL injection and cross-site scripting.
  • Control Access – Restrict server access to a few trusted employees or necessary third-party subcontractors. Log all user access and require employees to undergo security background checks before using the platform.
  • Authenticate ePHI – You must identify and authenticate ePHI and protect it from corruption, unauthorized changes, and accidental destruction. This requirement works hand in hand with the website.
  • Control Activity Audits – Detailed server logging is recommended to track all ePHI access attempts and to monitor how ePHI data is manipulated across the hosting platform. Detailed logging creates vast volumes of data. Use a SEIM application to make sense of the data and identify genuine issues.
  • Control Facility Access – The hosting provider must carefully track individuals with physical access to the data center. Protections include CCTV, security patrols, and audited access.

HIPAA-Compliant Hosting

Atlantic.Net is a global cloud service provider with over 30 years of industry-leading experience. We have many happy healthcare clients leveraging Atlantic.Net services for a robust and scalable HIPAA-compliant website.

We can provide turn-key hosting solutions that include encrypted VPN connectivity, perfect if your medical organization opts for a cloud-based SaaS web conferring solution. In addition, we encrypt peer-to-peer connections and implement access controls in line with HIPAA safeguard recommendations.

Our world-class HIPAA hosting facilities can power your healthcare infrastructure, giving you the performance needed to build your website on our platform.  If you are a healthcare provider in the market for a secure HIPAA-compliant cloud hosting service, contact our sales team to find out how Atlantic.Net can help you.

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