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Industry • Best Practice

Securing Success: How to Choose HIPAA Compliant Medical Spa Software

Medspa compliance requires software purpose-built to handle protected health information and a commitment to continuous monitoring

In the beauty industry, medical spas are uniquely capable of transformative services. Blending medicine and aesthetics to bring clients closer to their ideal visions of themselves, medspas occupy a singular place in the beauty industry. Although that makes medspas attractive to clients, it also makes them accountable to strict regulations. And the 800-pound silverback in medical compliance is HIPAA. 

To meet the standards set by this federal law, it’s crucial you use HIPAA compliant medical spa software in your tech stack. These solutions help protect your patients from privacy breaches and your business from severe fines. This guide will help you find a solution that meets HIPAA compliant software requirements as well as your specific business needs.

What is HIPAA, and how does it affect medspas?

If you’re in the midst of research on HIPAA, you’re probably full of questions. What, exactly, is HIPAA? Do medspas have to be HIPAA compliant? And if so, what happens if my business doesn’t meet HIPAA standards?

Let’s start with the big one. HIPAA stands for the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act of 1996. It establishes the minimum federal standards for protecting the privacy of patients’ protected health information (PHI), which is any information in medical records that could be used to identify an individual. HIPAA applies to any business that practices medicine and collects PHI, so yes, medspas must be HIPAA compliant.

If they fail to achieve that standard, the consequences can be dire. The Office of Civil Rights at the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) is the primary authority on and enforcer of HIPAA. When a HIPAA violation occurs, HHS conducts an investigation and hands down rulings based on its findings. Civil penalties for a HIPAA violation begin at $127 per violation and can rise to $1,919,173 in the worst-case scenario. Criminal violations can incur additional fines, restitution payments to victims, and up to 10 years in prison. If that’s not enough, state attorneys general can pursue civil penalties of their own after the HHS investigation.

Although patients can’t typically sue for HIPAA violations, there have been instances in which class action suits successfully won settlements for the underlying or causal circumstances around the violations. For example, when cybercriminals gained access to the PHI of 4.5 million patients at a California health system, the state court awarded a $7.5 million settlement because the medical center took nine months to notify patients of the breach.

Finally, HIPAA violations can deal a crushing blow to your business’s reputation. Medical treatments of all kinds rely on the trust between practitioners and patients (or clients, as the case may be). When that trust breaks down, it can be difficult — and sometimes impossible — for a business to bounce back.

Features to look for in HIPAA compliant medical spa software 

HIPAA compliant software requirements aren’t a hard and fast list. Not every organization will have the same security needs as another. But regardless of the type of software you’re looking to adopt, these features will help ensure HHS approves your tech stack.

  • Data encryption: Data encryption prevents third parties from accessing client information in the event of a data breach. It should be applied anywhere you store PHI, whether that's in on-location servers or in the cloud. Data in transit should also be encrypted — and will be if you use HIPAA-compliant messaging software.

  • Backups: If your primary data stores are compromised, backups ensure you can recover the lost information. Cloud backups may be the safest option, as they’re insulated from disaster and must meet stringent security standards. Wherever backups are stored, they should also be encrypted.

  • HIPAA Business Associate Agreement: Any business that partners with a medspa and has access to client records must sign a HIPAA Business Associate Agreement (BAA). If any of the software you use includes access to PHI — for instance, if you store client info in the cloud — you must sign a BAA with the provider of that service.

  • Role-based permissions: Many medspa employees need to access PHI to do their jobs, but limiting who has access to what can minimize the fallout from a breach. Setting granular permissions on staff access prevents compromised accounts from running wild on your network.

  • IP restrictions: Limiting the networks on which employees can access PHI can benefit you in two ways. For one, it ensures connections to that data are secure because you've chosen them yourself. For another, it can keep connections in the medspa itself, where you can monitor actions more directly.

How to maintain your medspa compliance

HIPAA compliance is more than just a one-and-done deal. It requires constant vigilance to ensure no part of your business leaks PHI. Here are some steps you can take to build firewalls against non-compliance.

  • Assign ownership of HIPAA to a high-ranking employee to make sure someone with authority keeps an eye on compliance. This employee — sometimes with their own title, such as HIPAA Privacy Officer — can design and document your HIPAA protocols, monitor for threats and violations, and enforce HIPAA policies.

  • Perform regular audits to identify possible risks for data breaches or privacy violations. HIPAA compliant medical spa software can often facilitate these audits. You can then use the findings to patch any security shortcomings and stay on top of compliance.

  • Develop policies and procedures for obtaining, using, and disclosing PHI. These frameworks should give clients an opportunity to agree or object to the use of their PHI.

  • Train employees on how to maintain HIPAA compliance. Your goal should be for staff to have a deep understanding of HIPAA’s key terms, know how to maintain compliance, and the repercussions of a lapse. That training should include data security measures such as password management and phishing awareness, and you should reinforce it regularly with brief refresher courses.

Using a HIPAA compliance checklist can make achieving and maintaining compliance easier.

HIPAA compliance is an ever-evolving challenge, but it doesn’t have to be a painful process. Boulevard uses advanced data security measures from granular user permissions to encryption to keep PHI safe and your business compliant. Click here to learn more.

For more medspa operations best practices, check out our guide: The Ultimate Guide to Medical Spa Management Software.

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