Better medical SEO, a responsive design, and an easy to use interface may not be enough for a physician or hospital website to meet the expected standards. Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act (HIPAA) compliance matters. While your practice is providing conveniences such as online appointment scheduling and bill payment for patients to communicate 24/7 with their doctors, it is critical that the patient information you handle is kept secure. Physician website design and hospital website design is different from the average business website design. It is vital to adhere to HIPAA guidelines and industry-specific regulations, while designing and developing a medical website so that medical businesses can operate lawfully and successfully.
Medical Economics has cited an example of unintentional patient data compromise, where a patient’s “before” and “after” photos that highlighted the results of a specific treatment was shared on a medical website with the patient’s signed written consent to post them anonymous. But these uploaded photographs contained the patient’s name, enabling a search engine to locate the patient from the underlying file data. This is a clear example that shows the hospital failed to properly secure electronic Protected Health Information (PHI), resulting in drastic consequences such as costly lawsuits, HIPAA fines and complaints.
It is critical for healthcare providers to ensure that their site is HIPAA-compliant and is able to provide patient education.
Consider these factors to ensure that your website is HIPAA compliant.
Meet critical HIPAA security standards : If your healthcare website is sharing patient information online through a patient portal or collecting information about prospective patients through a healthcare application such as a contact form, or engaging in secure messaging with patients online, make sure the site is equipped with a security protocol. Using SSL to protect patient information is your first step to a HIPAA-compliant website. Secure Socket Layer (SSL) technology prevents unauthorized access, as it encrypts the data traveling through the internet between the visitor’s browser and the practice’s website server. Upgrading medical website with SSL helps to
- secure patients’ trust
- enhance website’s legal compliance
- build patient trust, and
- boost Google rankings
When SSL is used on the website, even cyber criminals won’t be able to use or read the encrypted information. Without this security measure, patient data will be easy for hackers to capture, read and use.
Patient consent before sharing details online : It is important to obtain patients’ consent before disclosing their health information online. Though HIPAA does not require hospitals to get patient consent for sharing details for treatment, payment, and health care operations, the regulations do mandate that doctors should obtain written patient consent before releasing their information for any reason other than healthcare operations. According to the American Academy of Family Physicians, patient authorization is important to
- disclose PHI about a patient to a third party (for e.g. a life insurance underwriter)
- market products or services except if the marketing communication is face-to-face with the patient, or it involves the provision of services of nominal value
- raise funds for any entity other than your healthcare business
- conduct research, unless your practice has signed a waiver approved by the Institutional Review Board for the use and disclosure of PHI or has de-identified PHI
- disclose psychotherapy notes, unless disclosure is required for law enforcement purposes or legal mandates, oversight of the provider who created the notes, use by a coroner or medical examiner, or avoidance of a serious and imminent threat to health or safety
Unless you obtain the patient’s signed written consent to publicly display their name and health information, do not include any form of identifiable information about the patient on the website, such as that which may be included in patient reviews.
Notice of Privacy Practices : The HIPAA requires all health care providers to provide a Notice of Privacy Practices that describes the ways patient information will be used, disclosing this information to others and HIPAA rights regarding health information. This Notice can be either posted on your website or you can choose to deliver the Notice of Privacy Practices to patients by electronic means, which requires that the patient provides an acknowledgement of receipt.
To be HIPAA compliant, it is also important for your website and the server to pass rigorous intrusion detection tests on a regular basis. Hospitals must ensure that their server host is aware of HIPAA and their obligations in hosting a medical website, and is experienced in implementing HIPAA-compliant hosting practices. Healthcare website design for hospitals also requires the passwords to be changed regularly. Besides, only certain personnel should have login access to PHI.