Any digital marketing strategy for dentists must start with a robust website. However, making a well-designed website isn’t enough for; it must also be HIPAA-compliant. This means that, in addition to technological protection, your dental practice website must have acceptable policies and procedures in place if it is used to transmit or store protected health information (PHI).
Your potential patients might communicate with you through live chat, email, and fill out contact forms. There are rules surrounding who that data they give you is stored, accessed and used. That’s where HIPAA-compliant guidelines come into play.
What is a HIPAA-compliant website?
A HIPAA-compliant website adheres to standards set by the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act (HIPAA). This is a federal statute that safeguards the personal information of patients. The Department of Health and Human Services in the United States developed it. HIPAA enforcement is based on two main principles:
- The Privacy Rule, which safeguards personal information.
- The Data Security Rule, which promotes the use of data security measures.
Why is it essential for your practice website to be HIPAA compliant?
To begin, you’ll need a HIPAA-compliant website because you don’t want to jeopardize your credibility and reputation by allowing your patients’ information to become public. This is critical in the healthcare sector, and it will almost definitely result in financial losses.
The Office for Civil Rights (OCR) of the US Department of Health and Human Services maintains a list of even the slightest HIPAA enforcement violations on its so-called “wall of shame.” The name of the healthcare provider, the type of crime, and the number of patients affected are all included on the list.
If you violate these guidelines, you’ll be more than shamed. Non-compliance with HIPAA could result in financial consequences ranging from $100 to $50,000 per violation, depending on the severity of the breach. A maximum fine of $1.5 million per year is possible. It’s also possible to face criminal charges that lead to incarceration.
Your dental practice website must also adhere to these guidelines. This is why:
- You run a website that gathers personally identifiable health information (PHI).
- Personally identifiable information (PII) is saved on your website.
- Personal information is stored on a server that is linked to your website.
What does HIPPA compliance look like?
While there is a lot to consider when it comes to enforcement, below are some of the most important factors to consider:
- SSL Certificate: The first move is to ensure you have a website which is secured by SSL. Any page that collects or shows protected health information, or is used for logging users in, or transmits authorization cookies, etc., must be secured with SSL and should not be accessed insecurely. SSL meets HIPAA’s data transmission protection criteria in communications between the end-user and your website.
- Secure back-ups: You must ensure that all PHI saved on or obtained from your website is backed up and can be retrieved in the event of a disaster or an accident. For information stored on their servers, most web hosts provide this service. If your site sends information elsewhere (for example, to you by email), those messages must be backed up or archived as well. You must ensure that those backups are reliable, usable, and only accessible to approved individuals.
- Encrypted storage: You must ensure that all collected and stored protected health information is encrypted and that only those with the appropriate keys can access/decrypt it. This secures backups, protects data from unauthorized access, and protects data in general no matter what happens.
- Don’t let just anyone access the data: It’s important to know who has access to your patient’s health information. Is your email or messaging device accessible to anyone? Is your website enforcing special, protected logins to ensure that only registered / relevant people have access to PHI that it stores or provides access to?
- Your business vendors must also be compliant: Suppose your website or data is stored on a vendor’s servers. In that case, HIPAA requires that you have a signed Business Associate Agreement with them. This contract guarantees that the vendor will adhere to HIPAA security rules regarding your data and its servers.
It might seem like a lot of hoops to jump through, but if you take steps to secure PHI, your website will be completely HIPAA-compliant, allowing you to concentrate on attracting more dental patients. For a consultation and expert advice, contact us today!