Is your App HIPAA Compliant? What happens if it’s not?

by Editor

Due to the pandemic, the need for telemedicine and mHealth technologies has increased and the healthcare sector has seen the historic growth in the use of medical applications. The hospitals, medical offices, and other healthcare organizations have been trying their best to keep up with the patient demand during Covid.

With the increased use of technology and medical applications, the main challenge for healthcare organizations is not the application modeling or the market focus, but data security. Third-party applications, i.e., medical applications, can access critical data such as patient information, linked patient records, due to which interoperability and cybersecurity are the major healthcare concerns. This shows a huge change in the way health services are administered. The top-of-mind concerns for the health system administrators now are the availability, affordability, and uptime of the data centers.

Strict legal requirements have been imposed on the medical industry due to the medical application boom and it is important for the technology used in medical offices to run flawlessly. This particularly implies the telemedicine tech like video conferencing software to remotely deal with the patients, VPNs, data storage, and transmission applications for CT scans, MRIs, and other electronic patient health records.

When we talk about telemedicine technology, the arrival of HIPAA, PCI DSS, and other industry regulations have created several challenges for healthcare providers. Meeting these technical obligations can be very confusing when the level of inspection of your IT performance and security has never been so high. To keep up with the world’s ever-changing privacy and security regulations and best practices, the healthcare industry needs data centers and IT compliance specialists.

Nowadays, the healthcare sector is most vulnerable to data breachesData breaches occur as the value of the data has dramatically increased while the amount of security has remained flat or decreased. A data breach happens due to credential-stealing malware, any accidental or intentional disclosure of a patient’s information by an insider, or due to lost or stolen devices.

Healthcare organizations have to maintain the security and integrity of their medical applications to avoid these data breaches.  Traditionally, the EHRs (Electronic Health Records) or PHIs (Protected Health Information) are stored on local servers. However, the most convenient yet secure way of storing such sensitive information is in data centers.

HIPAA Compliant Application Hosting:

HIPAA, the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act, set a standard to protect sensitive information related to patients. HIPAA compliance implies that the organizations that deal with Protected Health Information (PHI) must ensure that physical, network, and process security measures are in place. The HIPAA standards are implied on two types of organizations:

  • Covered Entities
  • Business Associates

The covered entities refer to organizations that collect, create and transmit PHI electronically, such as healthcare providers, clearinghouses, health insurance providers.

Business Associates refer to organizations that interact with PHIs in one way or another over the course of work that it has contracted to perform on behalf of any covered entity. The business associates include billing companies, third-party consultants, IT providers, and others of the sort.

When a medical application is hosted on a non-HIPAA compliant host, it is more prone to data breaches and security threats as HIPAA is the most effective way to secure the PHIs.

HIPAA Requirements for Data Storage:

The HIPAA requires data centers to fulfill the following requirements to be called HIPAA compliant:

  • PHIs should be encrypted and secure to prevent any unauthorized access.
  • A VPN must be established so only those with credentials can access it remotely.
  • Data centers should have disaster recovery plans ready.
  • Data should be stored in a redundant, isolated, secure storage connected to high-speed internet.
  • The data center should have a distinct web, database, and production server.
  • Hospital and patients’ records must be on a private IP address, and hosting should also be private for a particular healthcare organization.

While deciding to host applications, healthcare organizations must choose HIPAA compliant Application hosting to avoid potential data breaches. Data breaches may cause due to HIPAA violation and leads to data theft. Data breaches are costly for covered entities, and being HIPAA compliant reduces the chance of data loss or data theft.

Data Center:

data center can be defined as a physical facility (when on-premises) or cloud facility (when deployed virtually i.e., in Azure or AWS)  where organizations store their sensitive data and applications. They are mainly composed of networked computers and storage devices. Healthcare organizations should consider working with a data center to avoid any data leaks. The security of the data is then the responsibility of the data center. They take care of all the activities needed to secure and maintain data while controlling access.

For storing and managing the data on a data center, healthcare organizations need one or more hosts based on the amount of data they have. Many data centers and hosting providers provide a secure place to store data. But HIPAA compliant hosting should be the priority of these organizations.

The Importance of Data Centers for Healthcare Organizations:

With increased storage and transmission of large files such as CT scans, MRIs, and other diagnostic images and electronic patient health records, the adoption of data centers has increased immensely due to their secure, robust, and standardized infrastructure. Healthcare organizations are not used to handling the amount of data generated by different machines used in the health sector. Data centers help in better interoperability and are responsible for handling the tasks related to data transmission and security.

The obvious conclusion of the above discussion is that we’re going to need many more data centers than we have now in addition to more security, IT, and compliance specialists.

While deciding to move the data and applications to a data center, the IT professionals such as Database experts and network staff at any healthcare organization must ensure that the data center complies with HIPAA Protocol.

The HIPAA IT Compliance Check goes beyond audits:

To comply with HIPAA, the data centers have to meet strict security requirements. The independent audits can help determine if HIPAA compliance safeguards are implemented in a system or not. But to validate the HIPAA compliance, audits and consultation is not enough.

While looking for colocation or hosting services, the organizations need to sign a business associate agreement. Before selecting a healthcare business associate, diligence must be performed to choose the right associate to work with. You can also check for compliance with the Statement on Standards for Attestation Engagements 18 (SSAE 18). Adopting SSAE 18 certification along with the HIPAA compliance audits generates redundancy in the third-party security evaluation of the data center you choose.

Many data centers provide HIPAA compliant application hosting, the best of which is the Protected Harbor:

The Protected Harbor:

The Protected Harbor is another healthcare data center specifically designed to host medical applications and data while ensuring HIPAA compliance and securing the PHIs or EHRs. The Protected Harbor hosts large data applications. The data include medical billing, insurance paperwork, patients’ information, health records, and other sensitive information. It is usually used by organizations that need to access data quickly and frequently and transmit it electronically. When talking about big data, security and data leak risks are our major concerns.

Furthermore, complying with HIPAA is not easy, so to be compliant with HIPAA and secure the data while avoiding any data leak risks, the Protected Harbor uses S2D stacks. The S2D (Storage Spaces Direct) is a technology getting more and more adoption in current IT systems. It is included in Windows Server 2016 and uses industry-standard servers with local-attached drives to create highly available and scalable software-defined storage. The Protected Harbor manages the second-largest S2D cluster behind Azure in the U.S.

The Protected Harbor offers you:

  • Enhanced Security – something about network configuration being air-gapped
  • Reduced Downtime – 99.9% uptime, built for redundancies and data backups
  • A cost-effective and secure solution
  • Highest regulatory standards
  • A specialized team of IT services experts managing day-to-day compliance procedures.
  • Real-time visibility, access, and control over the healthcare IT environment from a single platform.


The health sector creates lots of data daily due to the increased use of technology and software applications. This data includes the patients’ and hospitals’ sensitive information. These organizations are not used to handling this much data, so they consider hosting it on a cloud or any offsite data center instead of hosting it in-house. For keeping the PHIs or EHRs secure, healthcare organizations have to look for a HIPAA-compliant data center.

This article describes HIPAA compliance, why it is important, and how a data center could become HIPAA compliant. It also introduces two data centers that are HIPAA compliant, Protected Harbor being the most secure and recommended.

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