Your medical practice website is essential for growth, but before you dive into adding pages, forms, and functionality, make sure you review and keep the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act (HIPAA) in mind. HIPAA has regulated patient privacy and information since 1996 — and the rise of online health portals has made managing HIPAA compliance much more complicated. But how to stay HIPAA compliant on your medical practice website?
It’s not as hard as you think to make a website HIPAA compliant. Yet it’s also crucial to your success as a healthcare provider — and to building patient trust.
In 2022 there were 707 healthcare data breaches, resulting in the release of tens of thousands of patient records. Medical practices made up 35.6% of these breaches. Ensuring that your website is secure, well-maintained, and up to date can reduce the likelihood that it will be subject to a costly breach and can also reassure both you and your patients that their data is safe and protected.
How does HIPAA compliance relate to websites?
HIPAA was written before healthcare websites were common, but many of the rules that relate to patient privacy and data storage apply.
In particular, the HIPAA privacy rule and the HIPAA security rule dictate how protected health information (PHI) can be collected, stored, and used. The Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) and the Office for Civil Rights (OCR) consider the following types of data to be PHI:
- Patient name
- Important dates, such as a birthday, admission or discharge date, or date of death
- Contact data like telephone number, fax number, or email address
- Social Security number
- Medical record number
- Health plan beneficiary number
- Account number
- Any kind of certificate and/or license number associated with the patient that could reveal their identity, such as driver’s licenses, death certificates, etc.
- Vehicle identifiers, serial numbers, and license plate numbers
- Device identifiers or serial numbers
- Web URLs that contain sensitive information, such as web form records that contain patient details
- IP addresses
- Biometric identifiers like fingerprints or voice prints
- Full-face photos
- Any other unique identifying numbers, characteristics, or codes
But how and why does a medical practice collect PHI? For practices that have begun to embrace the digital patient journey, patients might be able to:
- Review lab results and personal health records from a patient portal
- Schedule appointments online
- Email medical documents
- Follow up after an appointment via email or text
- Request digital medical documentation
- Pay bills using a link you provide
With more and more patients accessing and sharing this sensitive information directly from their mobile devices and laptops, ensuring your practice website is HIPAA compliant is the minimum.
Why make your website HIPAA compliant?
Before you improve your site’s security and privacy, consider what’s necessary for compliance. To remain compliant with HIPAA, medical practice websites must:
- Securely send, store, and receive patient data
- Provide access to good-faith disclosures
- Limit who can access data
- Regularly monitor activity
Each one of these procedures is part of keeping your healthcare website compliant — but they’re all also part of creating a quality and streamlined patient experience, ensuring smooth patient-provider communications and transparency, building trust, and reducing the risk of downtime. Not to mention that healthcare providers found to violate HIPAA can face fines or even criminal consequences.