How To HIPAA Enable Your SaaS Application

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Blog » How To HIPAA Enable Your SaaS Application

Table of Contents

How To HIPAA Enable Your SaaS Application 1

Blog » How To HIPAA Enable Your SaaS Application

Table of Contents

Software as a Service, popularly known as SaaS, is a software licensing and distribution model where access to the software is made available on a subscription basis. Here, external servers host the software and not those present in-house. For example, if you are a SaaS provider where users create and distribute protected health information, you must comply with HIPAA.

The Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act, or HIPAA, was passed in 1996 to effectively protect and keep the patient’s sensitive medical information confidential. It ensures that the data of these users are given privacy and helps from information being transmitted to persons with malicious intent. HIPAA regulates the handling of electronically protected health information (ePHI) by healthcare providers, health insurance plans, and other covered entities.

While healthcare app developers understand the need for HIPAA compliance, HIPAA compliance for SaaS is not entirely understood by all. Under HIPAA, you can find two types of entities that should comply with the HIPAA requirements. The first is a covered entity (CE) which refers to organizations that directly provide treatment, operations, or payment in healthcare. Cloud service providers don’t fall into this category, but they do provide services to the CEs. The second type is called business associates.

They are defined as entities that provide a service requiring them to access, use, or share ePHI. Many SaaS companies that work within the healthcare industry can be considered HIPAA business associates due to their solutions for handling ePHI. Because this makes most SaaS companies HIPAA business associates, there are certain requirements that they need to meet to comply with HIPAA for covered entities to feel comfortable working with them.

One of the core benefits of SaaS is its multitenancy, which is how a single instance of the software and its infrastructure can serve multiple customers. This allows you to have lower costs through economies of scale, as scaling for new users would involve fewer infrastructure requirements than a single-tenancy solution. This is where the HIPAA compliance authentication and authorization part is critical. Since it’s a shared infrastructure, you must have great emphasis on security, and ensure the user accessing the data is the one who he claims he is, and this is by having the right authentication and authorization. Although this means other tenants won’t see your data, it does mean multiple users (who might not be associated with your company) are allowed on the same database. Broader access leads to reduced control of security.

You may also be subjected to civil and criminal penalties if any rules have been violated. HIPAA compliance can be a challenge for software companies. If your company provides a SaaS application to any of the HIPAA entities, you must take steps to ensure that your application is HIPAA compliant. In this guideline article, we will discuss how to HIPAA-enable your SaaS application.

What Does HIPAA Compliance For SaaS Mean?

HIPAA outlines several administrative, physical, and technical safeguards, and adhering to them means that your company is HIPAA compliant. However, there are certain entities that, by law, are required to comply with HIPAA. These include healthcare providers like hospitals, doctors, home and health agencies, and healthcare clearinghouses like repricing companies and value-added networks.

Besides this, health plans are also considered entities where organizations like health insurance companies and health maintenance organizations are included. Last but not least, business associates, who are third-party organizations that help perform functions on behalf of a covered entity and handle protected health information (PHI), are required to be HIPAA compliant.

SaaS companies fall under the bracket of business associates and hence, need to comply with the safeguards outlined by HIPAA. Whether you’re an app developer who has designed an application that collects and distributes medical data about patients with a medical professional or simply a service provider with clients who deal with electronically protected health information (ePHI), you are subjected to SaaS compliance.

Besides abiding by the safeguards, you could also employ measures such as appointing a security and privacy officer, conducting risk assessment, adhering to verbal policies, procedures, and standards of conduct, and taking prompt action if rules have been violated. For example, to develop an app that is HIPAA-compliant, you could reach out to develop services that specialize in the field. In addition, TR offers healthcare app development services to ensure you are not at risk of any violations.

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HIPAA Compliance Software Requirements

Privacy Rule

The HIPAA privacy rule oversees how EPHI is stored and used. This rule has been around since 2003. This applies to all healthcare providers and organizations. In 2013, this also covered business associates associated with the above-mentioned entities. This rule demands that proper precautions be taken to safeguard the privacy of PHI. Patients also have full rights over their information. This means asking for a copy of their health records, reviewing them, and making changes to them as they please.

Security Rule

This rule contains the standard of protection that EPHI receives when it is at rest or being transferred. This applies to any system or person that has access to sensitive personal data. By access, it means the ability to read, write and modify EPHI. The security rule consists of three parts: technical, physical, and administrative.

Enforcement Rule

When a breach of PHI is detected, an investigation is usually supervised by the HIPAA Enforcement Rule. This is generally followed by penalties imposed on all parties involved with the data breach. For example, a hearing would take place to discuss the severity of the violation.

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Breach Notification Rule

Whenever a breach of PHI occurs, it is necessary to inform patients of the incident. The Breach Notification Rule makes sure covered entities follow this. The rule requires the covered entities to notify the Department of Health and Human Services. The media must also be informed if the breach has had more than 500 people affected.

Omnibus Rule

This rule was introduced to address omitted areas that HIPAA had not encountered in previous updates. When this rule comes into effect, it amends definitions, streamlines procedures and expands the HIPAA compliance list to include more entities such as business associates and subcontractors. Individuals or organizations that create, store, and receive EPHI are classified as business associates, even on behalf of another covered entity.

HIPAA Compliance Checklist for Software Development

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Role-based Admin Control

It is easy to meet HIPAA’s data security requirements when sticking to role-based control. Using this method allows each user to access only that amount of data required for them to perform their duties—nothing more and nothing less.

Secure User Authorization

There are many ways user authorization can be approached. For example, HIPAA does not limit your choices. The following methods are the latest in authorization solutions:
Multi-factor authentication – This requires the user to enter their login and password. There are usually additional parameters, such as a one-time password.
Biometrics – If your users have access to mobile devices, tablets, and passwords, their inbuilt sensors can scan their fingertips and faces.
Expiring passwords – Having a strong password is the most common rule, but having frequently changed password is an even better way to ensure your software is secure.

Authorization Monitoring

Your software system should be able to track the activities of its users and point out patterns based on the daily actions of a user. This way, your system will detect suspicious behavior and send alerts about them. It should also include monitoring to see if the user accesses the database without going through the application. Additionally, you should track file access, file transfer tracking, and even printed document tracking.

Audit Logging

Audit logging is one of the key requirements of HIPAA, and audit log is important in any healthcare application that deals with PHI data. Audit logging in the SaaS applications includes all accesses to data by users, whether its full or partial data. If the PHI data is part of the list of records being displayed or detailed view, it should be tracked. Detailed data may be on multiple screens or pages, so audit logging should track what data was viewed by which users, and when etc. You should be able to track all the operations on user accounts and data, including creation, alteration/update, and deletion. Audit logging also includes monitoring and logging all accesses and access attempts to applications and data. You should be able to rebuild the history in case of any breach of data or legal dispute.

Data Storage and Backups

It is a compulsory practice to back up PHI data and securely store it for all parties involved. For a safety precaution, by law, a copy of all data must be stored on a third-party server that is reliable. This is to be separated from the original data. This is because, in the case of data loss or blackout, the data can easily be backed up using these servers.

Breach Remediation Plan

In the case of a data breach, HIPAA compliance regulations make it mandatory for a breach remediation plan. This is only if your business deals with PHI. Instead, the plan should consist of securing data, preventing further security risks, and documenting completed & scheduled safety procedures.

Emergency Override

If there is an immediate threat or emergency, there should be facilities to inform staff and patients. Multi-factor authentication and unique user authentication are recommended in times like this. The ability to access the same account from multiple locations simultaneously should be monitored and these entry points should be eliminated if need be.

Automated Log Out

A user’s screen should log off automatically after being left attended for a specific amount of time. This would prevent the possibility of unauthorized access to the data. However, implementing this feature into the configuration settings would be best for the user.

Data encryption

Encrypting one’s data is a critical element of data security. HIPAA compliance ensures that every patient’s PHI is not readily available to outside entities. Incorporating encryption for your data would put your users at ease and also save you from the consequences of data breaches. This would include when the data is at rest if it is being transferred.

HIPAA Compliant Database Design

For a truly HIPAA compliant database, the HIPAA’s requirements can be achieved with proper planning and configuration. It’s important for a HIPAA-compliant app to use databases that have encryption capabilities. While health data is encrypted in the database and during transit, the data moves from the application layer to the database layer. This means the encryption should ensure that malicious parties do not bypass the database controls and access the information directly. For example, Postgresql is one of the popular and famous HIPAA applications, but MySQL and other databases can also be used. MongoDB free version cannot be used, as it does not have encryption, but the enterprise version would work. MarkLogic is also another NoSQL database that is popular for creating HIPAA compliant applications.

Here are the following requirements for a HIPAA compliant database design:

  • Complete Data Encryption
  • Proper Encryption Key Management
  • Data Stores
  • Unique User Identification
  • Authentication
  • Authorization
  • Audit Logs
  • Database Backups
  • Dedicated Infrastructure
  • HIPAA Trained Personel
  • Automatic Updates
  • Data Disposal
  • Business Associate Agreements (BSA)

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How Technology Rivers Help With SaaS Compliance

Technology Rivers is a software and app development organization that will give you custom solutions for all your needs. Understanding the power of the cloud, they provide the best possible solutions for their customers to expand their business further. Armed with the knowledge from experts in the field, Technology Rivers is also a partner of Amazon Web Services (AWS), one of the leading and most trusted cloud computing services. They offer cloud services like cloud migration, cloud application development, developing a cloud strategy, and of course, helping with HIPAA-compliant application development and HIPAA-compliant hosting.

With excellent knowledge about what it takes to build a SaaS application that is HIPAA compliant, you can trust them to do all the groundwork for you and get your app up and running. They will ensure technological safeguards like firewalls, strong and unique passwords, cloud backups, and everything in place. Besides this, they are also aware of violations of HIPAA and will create solutions, so none of them are breached. You and your users can rest assured knowing that crucial medical information is protected, ensuring data privacy.

Now that you have been briefed in detail about HIPAA compliance for SaaS, we hope that you are better prepared with the knowledge of how to create a SaaS application compliant with all the factors mentioned by HIPAA.


HIPAA compliance for SaaS applications can seem daunting at first, but it doesn’t have to be. By following the right steps and working with a team of experts, you can ensure that your application is safe and compliant. Do you need help getting started? Our team at Technology Rivers can assist you in every step of the process, from designing a HIPAA-compliant database to ensuring that your application meets all of the necessary security requirements. Contact us today to get started on your journey to HIPAA enabling your app!

We hope you found this article helpful. If so, be sure to leave us an encouraging comment on Facebook and Linkedin!

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Ghazenfer Mansoor

Ghazenfer Mansoor

Ghazenfer Mansoor is the CEO of Technology Rivers. He has extensive experience in creating innovative and scalable software products. He helped numerous startups in their MVP, product development, and growth strategies.He writes on entrepreneurship, growth strategies, startups and technology.

Connect me @ LinkedIn | Twitter


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