Designing For HIPAA Compliance
Sean McGowanJanuary 09th, 20183 minute read
Sean is a technical researcher & writer at Codal, authoring blog posts on topics ranging from UX design to the Internet of Things. Working alongside developers, designers, and marketers, Sean helps support the writing team to ensure Codal produces engaging web content of the highest quality. When not writing about the latest innovations in app design, Sean can be found cooking, watching old movies, or complaining about the shortcomings of his favorite Philadelphia sports teams.
If you’re in the healthcare sector, or if your website or portal handles protected health information (PHI), chances are you’ve heard of the Health Insurance Portability & Accountability Act—more commonly referred to as HIPAA.
Though it was passed in 1996, long before the ubiquity of the Internet and the advent of the smartphone, HIPAA still dictates the functions, features, and protections that UX designers and developers have to include when crafting digital solutions for the healthcare space.
As a UX design agency with years of experience crafting healthcare software solutions, Codal is more than familiar with HIPAA regulations, and the best way to adhere to them without sacrificing the user’s overall experience. As such, here’s just a few of the design practices we implement for our healthcare clientele.
SSL, or ‘secure sockets layer’, is a networking protocol that ensures a safe connection between a client and server by requiring authentication from both. This communication between client and server is encrypted by a dual key system, meaning SSL is a secure enough protocol to be used for the trafficking of highly sensitive information (like a patient’s PHI).
When a healthcare organization hires Codal’s UX services, we usually advise protecting the entire website with the SSL protocol, rather than implementing it solely on certain pages. (You can generally tell if a page is using an SSL connection if it begins with “https”, rather than the standard “http”).
This practice allows some flexibility with the architecture and organization of the site—if the webmaster wishes to change the sitemap, they can easily do so without worrying about disrupting security or re-encrypting pages. If time permits, encrypting the entire site with SSL can save valuable time and resources in the long term.
SSL encryption is regularly utilized for websites of all kinds, but HIPAA requires it for sites that handle personal medical information. It is the necessary foundation of a secure, stable medical platform.
Data Protection, Backup, & Deletion
While the SSL protocol protects the client and server through encryption and authentication, the data passing through the secure connection should be encrypted for additional security. Fully encrypting data still safeguards your user’s PHI, even if the data is intercepted.
To add another layer of security, HIPAA also requires platforms to generate and store backups of all essential data. In healthcare web development and healthcare web design, a secure database is paramount. In many practical applications, this can mean leveraging a external database.
The last major functionality that must be implemented in all HIPAA-compliant platforms is a permanent data deletion mechanism. HIPAA states that any PHI that is no longer relevant to the organization—say a customer leaving their healthcare provider—must be permanently wiped from the servers and database.
To be truly HIPAA-compliant, your website and its infrastructure must pass stringent, and regular, testing protocols. This validation and testing confirms your platform’s adherence to all HIPAA standards and regulations, and should be performed by the site’s IT or development firm.
These tests can help diagnose vulnerable areas in the site’s security, as well as identify pain points and flaws in the user experience. These tests extend not just to the site owners, but also the site and server hosts as well.
Under HIPAA’s protocols, any security issues that may arise must be resolved within forty-eight hours. It’s crucial to review the troubleshooting processes of IT teams maintaining the site, to ensure this deadline can be met efficiently.
Maintaining HIPAA Compliance
The major industry practices outlined in this post are the same ones Codal implements for all of its healthcare IT solutions, but it’s still only the tip of the iceberg. It’s easy to overlook small details, like actually publishing your adherence to HIPAA on your site, or instituting regular password changes for the users.
That’s why it’s crucial to hire a UX design company that understands the ins and outs of the Health Insurance Portability & Accountability Act, addressing both the nuances of the law and the broader development strategy.
While the primary reason for adhering to HIPAA’s regulations is obvious—it’s the law—it’s also beneficial to the user experience of healthcare software. Oftentimes sites that don’t fall under the jurisdiction of HIPAA will still comply to the law, if only because it’s good practice.
If you’re interested in how Codal can upgrade your healthcare software, reach out to us. With nearly a decade of industry experience, we’re award-winning experts when it comes to UX design in the healthcare space.