In the US, there are over 700,000 healthcare institutions, like hospitals, dentists and nursing homes. These institutions deal with compliance issues as often as they do patient care. Because of the sheer volume of users and opportunity, healthcare software and applications is a large but attractive niche for developers.
But there are special considerations and precautions that need to be addressed when testing software that handles patient data. To fall within the law, companies must be able to provide HIPAA compliant web testing. Let’s take a deeper look at what exactly the laws and requirements mean and how to best test software in a healthcare setting.
What Is HIPAA?
HIPAA stands for the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act of 1996. The law covers a few areas: it better protects confidential patient information, gives easier access to continued health insurance coverage, controls administrative cost increases and creates a secure environment for healthcare information. Protected Health Information (PHI) includes demographics, communications and all medical records.
Any entities that deal in PHI must follow HIPAA or be faced with fines and possible licensing consequences. Entities covered are not only those with direct patient contact, such as doctors and nurses, but also include partner industries such as lawyers working on medical cases and even developers working on creating healthcare related devices and software.
The Rise Of The Electronic Medical Record
The Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act, more commonly known as Obamacare, was passed in 2010 and stipulated that by 2015, all healthcare providers must use electronic medical records systems (EMR). This ruling has added an even greater opportunity for start-ups to capitalize on programs that will benefit care providers. At the same time, it’s imperative that software be secure and compliant as more PHI than ever before is now accessible electronically.
HIPAA Software Regulations For Testing
The biggest concerns when testing software dealing in PHI are the security and privacy of the patient’s data. There are a few main areas of focus:
- Authenticating Users – This requires verification measures be in place to confirm user identities and restrict access to those who do not belong in the PHI.
- Authorizing Users – Only users who need the patient’s information (i.e. an employee scheduling an upcoming appointment, but not a doctor in another department) should have access.
- Establishing an Audit Trail – HIPAA compliance requires transactions and data access attempts be properly recorded for audits.
- Data Transfers – Transfer points should all have encrypted data.
- Other – Depending on the role of the software, there may be extra regulations required.
How HIPPA Can Complicate Testing
New web applications need extensive testing, but HIPAA makes this more difficult than working in other industries because of the stringent restrictions outlined above. Developers fall under the associated entities category and must follow the law.
BYOD Trend In The Healthcare Setting
The BYOD (Bring Your Own Device) trend is active and popular in healthcare. Devices, per HIPAA, must be encrypted. However, device type and specific requirements, such as the user’s choice of browser, are left up to individual preference or institution policy.
This is convenient for the doctor traveling between sites or the case manager checking emails and teleconferencing on the go, but adds yet another layer to the “testability puzzle.” While it would be great for developers if the industry had 1 standard machine and operating system, it is much too large to even consider such a move.
Cross Browser Testing Platforms
If you are unfamiliar with how your site displays across different browsers, you may confuse users when they access your applications from difference machines. Even worse, users may not have full functionality of the application if a browser problem prevents it from rendering pages correctly.
Because mobile devices and employees who BYOD may also be using the application in question, testing should include mobile web browsers. Cross browser testing allows developers to do just that, ensuring that applications will run in the intended way no matter what the device or browser is.
Healthcare providers and vendors are often left to deal with decisions that require information to be ready and attainable at a moment’s notice. The importance of applications working perfectly every time raises the stakes when it comes to testing your software.
Why Most Browser Cross Testing Cannot Work With HIPAA
There are many avenues for cross browser testing web applications, but unfortunately for companies dealing with PHI, they are not an option, or at least not an easy option to choose. Most cross browser testing solutions available today run on hardware provided by a third party. While these third party providers may be reputable and trustworthy companies, the HIPAA mandate includes them as part of the vendor chain that must be held to the standards of the law when dealing with PHI.
This can be a headache, but doesn’t have to be. There is a solution to test browser compatibility that falls within the HIPAA law.
HIPAA Compliant Local Hardware Testing Solutions
The best way to work within the law is to never have the PHI leave the network in the first place. Software that utilizes and runs on local hardware offers a solution to the problem because security relies on the customer’s network, which is already HIPAA compliant. HIPAA laws are then completely satisfied with this option and there is no need to worry about a third party.
HIPAA has changed the healthcare industry for the better in many ways. The implementation of the law and the mandate to move providers to EMR has given developers the opportunity to create applications that are useful and needed to further healthcare practices in our digitally dominated world. Patient information has become much safer. But HIPAA has made it more difficult to properly test applications, such as cross browser functionality, by restricting access to software that uses third-party vendors.
The best solution to this problem is to use testing software that runs on local hardware. This keeps the PHI on the client’s network and keeps companies completely within the HIPAA law, while still allowing them to create and implement new application products. Our solution BrowseEmAll solves this issue while offering optimized testing options, making this an easy choice for the healthcare industry.