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The Connected Health Initiative Launches ‘HIPAA Check’ Tool for App Developers

March 9, 2017
by Heather Landi
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The Connected Health Initiative, with ACT | The App Association, has developed an interactive tool to help software and app developers determine how their technology fits within the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act of 1996 (HIPAA) privacy and security rules.

Called HIPAA Check, the tool was developed to help health tech entrepreneurs working in the connected health space to understand whether they need to comply with HIPAA and, if so, how to comply. According to a blog post about HIPAA Check by Morgan Reed, president of ACT's Connected Health Initiative, the interactive tool takes each user through a series of questions with yes or no answers. Each question includes the definitions for terms they need, a video explaining the concept of “on behalf of,” and links to resources and places to find additional information.

The Connected Health Initiative (CHI), a coalition of industry stakeholders focused on using mobile connectivity to improve patient outcomes, worked on developing the tool for about a year, with the help of Joy Pritts, the former chief privacy officer for the Office of the National Coordinator for Health IT (ONC), within the U.S. Department of Health & Human Services.

“At its most basic level, HIPAA is designed to protect the privacy and security of patients by governing how entities that handle sensitive health information should protect that data, and it ensures patients are informed about how that data is used and stored. In order to be successful, health tech startups must protect the privacy and security of patients, but for many companies it’s a constant struggle to figure out where they fit in under HIPAA,” Reed wrote in the blog post.

“Importantly,” Reed wrote, “HIPAA rules do not apply to everyone who handles health related information. HIPAA only applies to health care providers and health plans (called “covered entities”) and certain organizations that perform activities on their behalf (called “business associates”).”

Reed also noted that the complexities within HIPAA often creates more questions than answers, particularly for new technologies that didn’t exist when the guidelines were created 20 years ago.

“As we received more and more of these questions, two things became clear,” Reed wrote, “1. The connected health community needs a clear and simple way to not only answer these key questions, but also to find the information they needed to navigate HIPAA and determine where they fit; and 2. Those tools would also need to arm the connected health community with the information they needed to talk about HIPAA (and their obligations under HIPAA) with their customers, financiers, and users.”

According to Reed, once a user has completed HIPAA Check, they have the option of receiving a full report. “While the information provided through the tool, and subsequently the report, should not be considered legal advice, the output of HIPAA Check will provide clarity for many companies as to their responsibilities under HIPAA,” she wrote.

The report provides all the questions answered and how they were answered. It also features reasoning for how they got the result they did, an overview of the entire tool, links to additional resources, and people they can contact if they have more questions. According to Reed, software and app developers can use the report as documentation to show their prospective clients, users, and backers “that they understand their role in protecting the privacy and security of patients utilizing technology to stay healthier.”

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