HIPAA Compliance for Developers

Health and Fitness Mobile Apps

Are you a mobile app developer who’s developing a healthcare-focused mobile app? If you answered yes, then you need to know what HIPAA is and why you need to be HIPAA compliant.

While not every health-related app needs to comply with HIPAA rules, those involved with gathering, storing or distributing personally identifiable health information with covered entities, i.e. doctors, dentists, hospitals and health plans, must remain compliant or face severe non-compliance penalties.


HIPAA, developed in 1996, is the acronym for the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act. HIPAA’s job is setting the standard to protect sensitive patient data. HIPAA requires business associates and covered entities to safeguard the privacy and security of protected health information, commonly referred to as PHI. Another need-to-know term is ePHI. This stands for electronic protected health information and refers to data that’s saved, transmitted or collected in electronic form.

There are four rules of HIPAA: the Privacy Rule, Security Rule, Enforcement Rule and Breach Notification Rule. As a developer, the HIPAA Security Rule is the one you need to focus on.

The HIPAA Security Rule is made up of three parts, summarized:

  • Administrative Safeguards — Significant with implementing a compliant HIPAA app and tell you what you’re required to do.
  • Technical Safeguards — Summarize what your app needs to do when handling PHI.
  • Physical Safeguards — Determine who has authorized access to your PHI data and how said data is going to be managed.

If you want your app to be HIPAA compliant, you must follow each of the above safeguards.

Determining If Your App Must Be HIPAA Compliant

When trying to figure out whether or not your healthcare app is compliant with HIPAA or not, you must take into account the following considerations:

Data Security With Mobile Devices

There are several ways a security breach or violation can occur with a mobile device. Some common ways include mobile devices being lost or stolen, users not using passcodes or users using easily cracked passwords. As you develop your mobile app that’s intended to send and/or share patient data, you have to contemplate these possibilities and others so you can do all you can during the development process to prevent your app from being non-compliant. Not everything is in your hands, but you must control what is so your mobile app obeys HIPAA’s Privacy and Security rules.

How To Decide If Your App Needs To Comply With HIPAA

Like was mentioned above, not every health app on the market needs to be HIPAA compliant. As a matter of fact, most don’t. But let’s decide whether or not yours should be.

Your mobile app should be compliant if:

  • It records or shares PHI with a covered entity.
  • It has personal information about people directly identifying them and can be communicated with a covered entity.

Your mobile app doesn’t need to be compliant if:

  • It Lets users access illness or medical reference information.
  • It Permits users to keep track of their diet, weight or exercise habits.
  • It Describes diseases and illnesses.

Mobile App Requirements To Be HIPAA Compliant

If you checked off the bullet points under being compliant, then clearly your mobile app needs to be HIPAA compliant. Here are some things your app must include to be HIPAA compliant, which protects you and your app from severe non-compliance consequences:

  • Encrypt data that’s going to be stored on your app.
  • Make users access PHI securely with unique user authentication.
  • Provide backup measures for data if a device is lost or stolen.
  • Apply consistent updates for the safety and protection of data.
  • Don’t include PHI with push notifications.
  • Don’t use a third party hosting or storing system unless they’re HIPAA compliant and sign a business associate agreement with you.

As a mobile app developer, it’s imperative that you understand HIPAA and its rules and take the necessary precautions to ensure your healthcare app is HIPAA compliant before it’s launched.

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