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HIPAA compliance is a critical aspect of healthcare technology, especially when it comes to third-party APIs. These APIs can be a powerful tool for healthcare software developers, but they also introduce risks to patient data privacy and security. This article will discuss how to ensure that third-party APIs used in healthcare are HIPAA compliant.


Identify and evaluate third-party APIs 

To ensure that third-party APIs are HIPAA compliant, it is essential to identify and evaluate each API used in your healthcare technology. 


Consider the following factors when evaluating an API:

  • What kind of data will be transmitted through the API?
  • Does the API have built-in security features like encryption and access controls?
  • Does the API vendor have experience working with healthcare organizations and complying with HIPAA regulations?
  • Is the API vendor willing to sign a business associate agreement (BAA) outlining their responsibilities for safeguarding patient data?


Implement technical safeguards 

To ensure the security of patient data transmitted through third-party APIs, it is necessary to implement technical safeguards. These safeguards may include the following:

  • EncryptionEncryption should be used to protect patient data transmitted via APIs. This can consist of transport-level encryption, which secures data in transit, and encryption at rest, which secures data when stored on servers.
  • Access controls: Access controls should be implemented to ensure that only authorized users can access patient data. This can include multi-factor authentication, role-based access controls, and user activity monitoring.
  • Audit logging: Audit logs should be implemented to track access to patient data, changes made to data, and any security incidents that occur. These logs can be used for forensic analysis in the event of a security incident.


Monitor third-party APIs 

Regular monitoring of third-party APIs is essential to ensure ongoing HIPAA compliance. This can include:

  • Regular security assessments of the API vendor and their services
  • Monitoring of user activity and access logs
  • Monitoring for any security incidents or breaches
  • Updating policies and procedures as needed based on changes to the API or regulations


Two unexpected potential violations:

Two potential HIPAA violations may occur inadvertently, despite best intentions to remain compliant with HIPAA. 

  1. Privacy policy changes: Regularly review their terms of service and privacy policy in case of changes that might impact your patients' protected health information (PHI). For example, if they begin sharing usage or tracking data with vendors, that may be non-compliant with HIPAA.
  2. Troubleshooting: When troubleshooting bugs with a 3rd party API service, you may need to share PHI over email. You must use HIPAA compliant email when communicating PHI. 


By following these steps, healthcare organizations can ensure that third-party APIs used in their technology are HIPAA compliant and that patient data is protected.

Related:  How to send HIPAA compliant emails 


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