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What Is a HIPAA API?

Richard Bailey
by Atlantic.Net (33posts) under HIPAA Compliant Hosting
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A HIPAA API is an Application Programming Interface (API) that is used to control interactions with healthcare applications, systems, and websites that handle protected health information and are subject to HIPAA (the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act).

An API is an automated interface residing on a remote server and is used to receive requests and send responses over the Internet, allowing a user to complete an action on that server without directly interacting with a third party application, system, or website. Think of it as a messaging system that delivers your request to an API and then returns with an answer to your request.

Almost every interaction you perform using a device, website, or program relies on an Internet-based API. Buying movie tickets, booking a flight, paying for parking, or ordering drinks at the bar via an app are all actions that typically use an API.

HIPAA APIs are used to feed information to and from the server to the application, system, or website seamlessly throughout its performance. Importantly, when data contains Protected Health Information (PHI), it becomes bound by the rules and regulations of HIPAA compliance. Any health information that has the privacy and security information redacted is exempt.

A brief background on HIPAA

According to HIPAA legislation, an application that handles the PHI of US citizens must be safeguarded with standardized encryption mechanisms and other protections in every use-case scenario. Failure to use a HIPAA-compliant API can be disastrous for a healthcare industry firm’s bottom line and reputation.

One way that application developers and others working with protected health data can achieve compliance at all times is through a healthcare-specific service that processes and stores all PHI in full compliance – as is necessary for all business associates (such as HIPAA Compliant Cloud Hosting Providers). APIs can be incredible tools that facilitate work with healthcare data, provided they are established within healthcare-specific architecture.

The HIPAA Privacy Rule applies to information held by covered entities that is usually processed by their business associates. A covered entity is the healthcare provider, typically a hospital, medical practice, clearinghouse, or a health insurance plan provider.

A business associate is any person or entity that performs tasks on behalf of the healthcare providers; for example, Atlantic.Net is a business associate. We must enter a business associate agreement with the covered entity.

For an API to be HIPAA compliant, HIPAA demands compliance with the Security Rule, the Privacy Rule, and the Breach Notification Rule.

Types of Healthcare API

Many different kinds of healthcare APIs are available. The most common types use the RESTful API (REpresentational State Transfer), which most developers are probably already familiar with. This API has an abundance of uses, as it utilizes HTTP requests to access and transfer data.

There are four data types in a REST API; GET, PUSH, POST and DELETE. A REST API can be used for many different applications, such as the transfer of information regarding medications, allergies, diagnoses, procedures, and a range of other information.

Next is the FHIR API (Fast Healthcare Interoperability Resources), FHIR is used exclusively for the exchange of electronic health records and is quickly becoming the global standard. FHIR is commonly used for the transfer of medical care information between practices, triaging day-case discharges, and emergency care, mental health, and outpatient clinic letters.

While numerous different HIPAA healthcare APIs are available, here are some of the most popular. The ApiMedic Symptom Checker is a REST API that helps users to find out what possible illness they might have. Others include APIs that help to monitor how diet affects your illness, the Dexcom API, which can be used to track anonymized health information to treat diabetes, APIs for HIPAA compliant telephone exchanges, and more.

HIPAA API Safeguards

Many additional physical, technical, and administrative safeguards need to be in place to protect healthcare API interactions. The quickest way to achieve compliance is to outsource some or all of your healthcare technical solutions to a HIPAA compliant managed service provider. Once onboard, you will have immediate access to a HIPAA compliant infrastructure. This means that any API transactions processed internally will be HIPAA compliant, assuming other aspects of the business are also maintaining compliance.

How do HIPAA compliant managed service providers achieve this? Data must be encrypted at rest and in transit, and most PHI is stored in a database, so if an API is programmed to query the database, the database must be encrypted. Securing the API data transmission as well as encrypting messages and responses are mandatory and can be achieved using an encrypted VPN tunnel between the Covered Entity and the Business Associates.

Access controls must be in place for who or what can query an API, and users and computers with this access should be controlled by access control lists on a need-to-know basis. In particular, service accounts need to be secured with the correct privileges. Access and audit logging must be enabled for all calls to the API, and logs should be reviewed regularly.

If an API is used to query a public cloud provider external to the HIPAA compliant network, only de-identified medical information can be used, and it is the covered entity’s responsibility to ensure this is set up.

How Can Atlantic.Net Help?

Atlantic.Net has more than 25 years of experience meeting and exceeding the needs of health professionals and is one of the country’s leading healthcare technology companies. If you’re in this industry and you need help with healthcare cloud hosting, contact our sales team to find out how our managed services could help your organization.

If you are in the market for managed IT healthcare services, make sure you choose an experienced HIPAA compliant provider that focuses on security, business continuity, and scalability: a provider that can grow with you, and one that focuses on collaboration and API data interoperability. We know that the regulations of the industry are intense, but Atlantic.Net can take away the stress of managing your entire IT operation.

We have an extensive list of healthcare clients who have trusted us for many years, and our managed service packages allow you to forget about the complexities of IT and focus on your patients.

We will protect your infrastructure from the very latest cybersecurity threats, as well as manage upgrades and maintenance behind the scenes. We will work with you to identify and secure PHI, protect you from ransomware attacks, and offer you the very best Healthcare Managed Services platform available.

Atlantic.Net offers HIPAA Cloud and HIPAA Compliant Hosting services to support IT Solutions for Healthcare. Contact us today to learn more!

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