google business associate agreements

Gmail, Google Apps for Business HIPAA Business Associate Agreements

The Health Insurance Portability and Accountability of Act demands that all HIPAA covered businesses prevent unauthorized access to “Protected Health Information” or PHI. PHI includes patients’ names, addresses, and all information pertaining to the patients’ health and payment records. According to the Department of Health and Human Services, “HIPAA Rules apply to covered entities and business associates.” Complete compliance with HIPAA guidelines requires implementation of basic and advanced security measures. Basic security includes benchmark-based password creation and use, personnel education and training, limited access to PHI, data encryption, use of firewalls, antivirus software, and digital signatures. With increasing adoption of electronic medical records and cloud-based software-as-service (SaaS), advanced security measures are necessary. Google’s Business Associate Agreement, introduced in September 2013, offers HIPAA compliant online services for covered entities.

Online Security: Google’s Business Associate Agreement

Many healthcare businesses use Google Business Apps. Google Business Apps are cloud-based software-as-service (SaaS) where small businesses have access to a suite of Google services such as Gmail, Google Calendar, Docs, Drive (storage), Apps etc. Google uses Ernst and Young third party evaluated and ISO 27001 certified encryption and authentication. But despite these foundational precautions, not all components of GBA have a level of security necessary for HIPAA compliance.

Enter Google’s Business Associate Agreement (BAA). Google’s Business Associate Agreement provides an additional layer of online safety by offering HIPAA compliant security for users of Google Apps Vault, Gmail, Google Calendar, and Google Drive. Businesses that opt for this agreement are precluded from using any of the other services in the Google Business Apps package (such as Google Docs, Hangouts, Marketplace, websites, etc), under the domain registered with and covered by Google’s Business Associate Agreement. Google’s BAA guidelines state “Customers who have not entered into a BAA with Google must not use Google services in connection with PHI.” The agreement requires that HIPAA covered businesses sign up for a Google Apps for Business Administrator account.

Training Reduces Human Errors

In addition to having the best online security, complete compliance requires implementation of solid procedures and policies, which includes training for staff members to prevent human errors. The Privacy and Security Rules require that healthcare businesses educate and train workers regarding policies and procedures for HIPAA compliance. Training requires experience and specialized knowledge that even the most advanced healthcare executive may not have.

When evaluating HIPAA training services, make sure the company you choose provides a complete HIPAA training package and is knowledgeable about online security strategies. Training should be affordable, but also useful in other ways. For example, HIPAA training that offers CME and CEU credits is a good way to maintain compliance with HIPAA law while helping your employees maintain valuable credentials.

3 comments on “Gmail, Google Apps for Business HIPAA Business Associate Agreements”

  1. Does HIPAA require all emails containing patient information of any kind to be encrypted? Does all data stored on pc’s/servers/SAN/NAS have to be encrypted?

    thanks –

  2. I work in an Optical store where we fill prescriptions but don’t take insurance. The customer’s Rx is stored in the computer but does not get emailed. Do we have to be Hipaa compliant?

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