In 2020, healthcare companies collectively paid $13,554,900 for the violations of HIPAA health data regulations. Even though HIPAA-compliant software that secures protected health information (PHI) has become an industry standard, many companies still fail to conform to HIPAA regulations.
Why is it happening? Some medical businesses make fundamental mistakes while embracing digitization. They employ unreliable software solutions, fail to use the safeguards of such apps properly, or do not use security-centric technologies for custom healthcare app development. Amazon Web Services (AWS) provides tools that will help you handle most of these problems. As one of the world's most popular cloud platforms, it offers a HIPAA compliant cloud storage for your data. What is even more important, AWS provides a broad technology stack that allows you to develop fortified cloud solutions for healthcare.
Want to know more about AWS healthcare data security practices?
Understanding Basic HIPAA Rules and Regulations
Before we dive into building AWS HIPAA compliant apps, let's clarify what HIPAA is and what it implies. The Office for Civil Rights has introduced the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act (HIPAA) to establish national standards for the protection of certain health data. The act applies to protected health information, which is private data and other personally identifiable information relating to a patient.
To secure PHI, the HIPAA healthcare act establishes 5 essential rules for data protection. A year of rule violations can cost you up to $1.5 million. Check these rules in the table below.
HIPAA rules and regulations are issued for the two categories of entities:
- Covered entity. It is a healthcare provider, a health plan, or a health clearinghouse that operates with PHI. A covered entity is punished for data leaks, including those involving healthcare software.
- Business associates. These are partners of covered entities that have access to PHI. This category includes financial organizations, lawyers, software providers, and cloud providers that cooperate with a covered entity. According to HIPAA healthcare requirements, a business associate's failure to secure patient private data will make both this organization and a covered entity punishable. Mind that healthcare technology companies that provide software for general use cannot be punished under HIPAA.
If your business belongs to one of such categories, AWS can become a solution for developing an app that fits HIPAA regulations.
Is AWS HIPAA Compliant and how Does it Fit into HIPAA?
AWS is the infrastructure of choice for medical companies. Healthcare providers or developers of medical software rely on this cloud platform due to flexibility, efficiency, and security. If you want to use the AWS stack to develop apps covered by HIPAA compliance requirements, you should accept the AWS Business Associate Addendum (AWS BAA).
Therefore, under HIPAA rules, AWS is classified as a business associate. Amazon Web Services embraces a shared responsibility model that distributes responsibility for data protection between the client and the cloud provider. Here is a brief explanation of how this AWS regulatory compliance model works.
Hence, as a compliant entity, AWS focuses on maintaining a HIPAA compliant cloud storage. In addition, the platform offers a list of security resources and features for healthcare providers and developers using its services. Let’s proceed with their detailed description.
Essential AWS Features that Facilitate Software HIPAA Compliance
AWS grants you maximum security of its HIPAA compliant servers fortified with the most sophisticated data encryption. In addition, Amazon Web Services provides multiple security-centric features for healthcare app development. Use the following resources to achieve AWS HIPAA compliance.
Key Management with Amazon KMS
AWS requires healthcare providers that use their services to use complex encryption for patient health information. They provide Amazon Key Management Service (KMS) to help users fortify the essential data. This AWS HIPAA compliant service creates keys to encrypt information stored on AWS cloud servers. KMS also uses validated hardware security modules to keep your software's private data secure and confidential.
Data Storage with Amazon S3
Amazon S3 is an object storage device that allows you to manage the accessibility of any information. It is one of the most broadly applied AWS HIPAA eligible services. While working with this feature, you can access only the S3 resources you have created. Meanwhile, you may provide other users with customly limited access to data in your HIPAA cloud storage. However, your data will be closed to the broad public. Here are the basic Amazon S3 functions for data access management.
With such features and complex data encryption, Amazon S3 is a dependable HIPAA cloud storage offering advanced access management settings.
Secure Messaging with Amazon SQS
Build secure in-app communication channels with SQS HIPAA compliant AWS services. This feature provides custom data encryption options to its users. For example, you may request Amazon SQS to encrypt your messages before saving them to disk in its data centers. Once the messages are received by a recipient, SQS will decrypt them. SQS also provides advanced access management functionalities. Use them to provide specific users with limited access to confidential communication channels.
AWS Disaster Recovery
Unpredicted events, such as disasters, can make you lose essential health application data. To achieve AWS HIPAA compliance, the cloud provider ensures continuous backup of your information. Therefore, you will be able to recover all the essential data in case of an emergency. Even if it goes about a regional disaster, your data will be safe as Amazon will move it to the HIPAA cloud storage in another AWS region. Mind that you may need to redeploy your infrastructure, code, and configuration in the recovery region. As in healthcare, missed time may cost human life, Amazon provides tools that automate such processes. If you use Infrastructure as a Code (IaC), you can quickly redeploy your infrastructure with AWS CloudFormation or the AWS Cloud Development Kit (CDK). Meanwhile, AWS CodePipeline will help you redeploy code and configuration as fast as possible.
Amazon VPC for Launching Private Subnets
To secure patient health information covered by HIPAA regulations, consider using a private subnet. This will give you full control over the accessibility of your data. You can also use a Security Groups function as a virtual firewall for your private subnet. This will enable you to create five security groups with different rules for inbound or outbound traffic. As a result, your software will run within a fully controlled and easily monitored intranet.
Secure Database Management with AWS RDS
Amazon RDS (Relational Database Service) is one of the most valuable HIPAA compliant AWS services. It allows you to control the accessibility of your relational databases. Here are the main methods for managing relational database permissions with Amazon RDS:
- Use RDS in connection with Amazon VPC to run your database (DB) instance in a virtual private cloud;
- Apply AWS Identity and Access Management policies to assign permissions for managing your RDS resources;
- Create security groups to determine which IP addresses can connect your DB instances;
- Apply Secure Socket Layer (SSL) or Transport Layer Security (TLS) connections to encrypt your instances that run with different DB engines, such as MySQL, MariaDB, etc;
- Use an RDS encryption algorithm to encrypt data on the server that hosts your DB instance;
- Use security features of your DB engine to determine who can access your RDS database instances.
A great benefit of RDS is that it can automate your database security practices. This saves your time and allows you to focus on health concerns.
HIPAA Compliant Data Processing with Amazon HealthLake
There is one upcoming HIPAA AWS service we should mention. Amazon has announced the release of HealthLake, an AWS HIPAA eligible service that securely stores health-related data. This service does not require you to build any complex infrastructure. All you have to do is to create a data lake and use it to securely store, transform, query, and analyze health data. Here is a more detailed scheme showing how HealthLake works.
Amazon HealthLake focuses on HIPAA compliance. It is also perfectly compatible with other AWS services on this list. This makes HealthLake the most promising solution in building AWS HIPAA compliance.
Examples of Software that Leverage AWS to Fit HIPAA Compliance Requirements
There are vivid examples of how AWS stack can be used to ensure top-notch security of healthcare applications. Here are some AWS HIPAA compliant platforms released recently:
- Arterys - a medical imaging solution that uses AWS stack to protect PHI and achieve HIPAA compliance;
- Change Healthcare - an AWS-based healthcare management solution that uses Amazon S3 and Amazon SQS to secure confidential transactions;
- Kit Check - a drug-tracking application that uses Amazon RDS to manage and secure information on drugs and hospitals;
- Oscar Insurance - a HIPAA compliant health insurance platform built with the AWS stack.
Binariks also has experience in AWS HIPAA software development. We have built a U.S.-based primary care platform that ensures remote patient monitoring. The app’s infrastructure relies on the AWS HIPAA compliant server. We employed various Amazon safeguards to ensure the top-notch security of the product that works with private health records. Read the full case study to know more about this project.
Amazon provides a significant technology stack for building cloud-based healthcare apps that fit HIPAA compliance requirements. However, one thing is to access the Amazon Web Services security stack, and another is to implement it for AWS HIPAA compliance. That is why relying on a dependable AWS software development partner is the best solution.
Binariks is ready to facilitate your plans. We are an AWS Select Consulting Partner with solid experience in providing AWS HIPAA eligible services. Check our portfolio to know more about our expertise.
Contact us to discuss your needs and find out how we can help you. Let's build excellent cloud-based solutions that comply with HIPAA healthcare requirements together.