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Medical Apps And HIPAA Compliance: What You Need To Know


We do everything on our phones these days, and that includes accessing our medical records and test results and messaging our physicians. But with this mobile convenience comes a number of concerns about privacy, particularly regarding HIPAA and HITECH compliance. In order to remain in compliance with these regulations, a high level of security is vital.

Doctors, patients, and program designers all need to be aware of what makes electronic medical records (EMR) and medical apps HIPAA compliant. Convenience is great, but data security is more important.

Emphasis On Encryption

Proper encryption of digital content may be the most important aspect to maintaining patient privacy. HITECH regulations require doctors to embrace EHR, using digital means to transmit prescriptions and giving patients access to medical records over the internet. This level of access may seem like it’s creating risk rather than reducing it, but when implemented properly, EHR are safer than paper record.

Proper implementation, however, focuses on encrypting records and features like two-factor authentication. By using strong passwords and ID-verifying precautions, patients can safely access their records without worrying that they’ll fall into the wrong hands.

Medical Apps Or Support Apps

When assessing the security of an app, it’s important to differentiate between officially sanctioned and protected medical apps and apps focused on well being that are not regulated by HIPAA. Support programs used by recovering alcoholics, for example, are not governed by HIPAA and HITECH, but may request medical information to guide users through the process.

On the other hand, medical apps used by your doctor to provide test results or for patient portal communications are governed by HIPAA. These programs use password protections and information encryption to protect sensitive information.

Demands For Developers

If you’re a physician or developer, there are certain security touchpoints you should be aware of. Developers should be sure to restrict medical app permission to avoid interaction between medical information and social media or email. Additionally, medical apps should never offer push notifications as these can violate privacy protections. Push notifications may seem like an ideal way to give patients up to the minute information about their health, but personal medical information should never be visible as alerts on the lock screen of the phone.

All developers also need to work within business associates agreements if they’re to be considered HIPAA compliant. Such an agreement restricts all app procedures to the rules doctors must also follow. As part of handling protected health information, developers join forces with medical professionals in regard to the importance of privacy.
EHR and medical apps are making the lives of both patients and doctors easier, but their development has also raised new questions about security in the digital age. These changes mean a dramatic shift in practices – app developers must become experts in medical law and patients must emphasize the value of their privacy in an era of sharing. What successful collaboration shows, however, is that access and privacy are not opposites, but carefully balanced goods in the world of medicine.

Anna Johansson

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