It is a good strategy for businesses to use HIPAA compliant cloud storage services if any of their internal processes involve handling protected health information: the medical data of patients or any information that is related to their treatments. It is, in fact, their legal obligation due to the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act of 1996.
According to the Act, healthcare providers need to ensure HIPAA compliance by enforcing three rules:
- Security Rule – they should make sure the confidentiality, integrity, and accessibility of protected health information (PHI) is maintained at all times
- Breach Notification Rule – healthcare providers and other covered entities should inform the concerned individuals about data breaches in the shortest possible time, using the most convenient method, and with the utmost effort put into reaching every single one of them
Also, if the healthcare providers share the PHI with other businesses they need to enforce these very rules using a “business associate agreement”, aka a “business associate contract.”
Before we move on, let’s clarify these two terms:
Protected health information (PHI): is a collection of data about the health or treatment – or payments made to healthcare providers for said treatment – that has been created or stored by covered entities or associated businesses, and can be traced back to a specific individual – i.e., the patient.
Covered Entities and Associated Businesses: when it comes to HIPAA compliance, these businesses include health plans, billing services, tech support companies, and health care providers that handle health information directly or indirectly as would be the case in sub-contracted or supporting companies they may need to pass it on to and thus require a business associate agreement.
With that having been clarified, we can move on to the best cloud storage service providers…
The best cloud storage for HIPAA compliance
Now, although we will be having a detailed look at each one of them, here’s a brief list of the best HIPAA compliant cloud storage services:
- Google Cloud – outsourcing database management to Google comes with a 99.999% uptime guarantee which boosts performance and helps with HIPAA compliance
- Amazon Web Services (AWS) – this is a cloud computing and storage service that is easy to set up, a joy to use, and guarantees security; this is why it is a popular choice
- Microsoft Azure – this is the ideal choice for businesses that choose Windows operating systems as they only offer Microsoft Azure SQL Server; but, they are the world’s biggest cloud service provider which means they make up for it elsewhere
- Alibaba Cloud – this is a cloud service that comes from the world’s third-largest player in the market and offers numerous database platforms; they specifically mention that they support business associate agreements for HIPAA compliance
Two important things to note here:
- Remember that there is no HHS recognized certification in the United States for HIPAA compliance or a HIPAA compliant database. As a matter of fact, it is important to also remember that compliance is a shared responsibility between the cloud storage services providers and the client that subscribes to them who then also goes on to sign a business associate agreement with its own subcontractors.
Ok, let’s have a look at the best HIPAA compliant storage services…
Alright; now that we have cleared all that up, it is time to have a look at four of the best HIPAA compliant cloud storage services:
Google Cloud Platform
- The service is known as Google Cloud SQL
- Database options include: MySQL, PostgreSQL, Microsoft SQL Server
Google Cloud SQL can scale very well based on the covered entities’ cloud computing needs. Coming from Google, it shouldn’t be a surprise that it is a powerful platform with excellent support for Windows- and Linux-based cloud computing requirements. It has an impressive selection of AI and smart data analysis features that help extract better data insights.
The Google Cloud Platform was built under the supervision of their security engineers which makes it one of the most secure places to store the protected health information PHI data produces. The fact that Google enters into Business Associate Agreements with its customers means it helps in achieving a HIPAA compliant cloud database for everyone involved.
Amazon Web Services (AWS)
- The service is known as Amazon Relational Database Service (RDS)
- Database options include: MySQL, NoSQL Tables, Microsoft SQL Server, PostgreSQL, MariaDB
AWS helps achieve HIPAA compliance with its FedRAMP and NIST 800-53 certifications.
They also offer Business Associate Addendum (BAA) services where a client can digitally accept data access terms of a BAA following which their AWS account is classified as an “HIPAA Account” and they can then access PHI.
Their Quick Start packages allow for quick and optimal deployment of popular technologies on AWS; these include products from Microsoft, SAP, IBM, and many more companies. This, plus detailed deployment guides, which offer step-by-step installation instructions, make AWS one of the best cloud storage services out there.
Apart from achieving HIPAA compliance, signing up for this service would make a business a part of the world’s second-biggest cloud server service.
- The service is known as Microsoft Azure SQL Database
- Database options include: Microsoft SQL Server
The Azure Security & Compliance Blueprint helps clients build HIPAA compliant cloud data storage systems – with the help of their HITRUST certification – that abide by the required security and privacy regulations.
Encryption of data – while in transfer and at rest – and a cybersecurity threat model and component reference architecture are some of the features that protect PHI and help clients batten down their database hatches.
A one-command environment setup takes care of roles and assignments, it discovers assets as it creates the database environment, while precise and detailed step-by-step documentation helps clients easily master this cloud computing and database platform.
Their Data Migration Assistant allows for easy import of data from legacy databases including MySQL, Oracle, MongoDB, PostgresSQL, and more.
Meanwhile, customer responsibility matrix and external compliance reports help the covered entities, and any business associate they may have, stay on the same page when it comes to the secure handling of PHI.
Finally; if there is one thing that can be considered a drawback with this cloud storage service provider it is that it only accommodates Microsoft SQL Server databases – but then again, it is their flagship database, so…
- The service is known as Alibaba Cloud Database Services
- Database options include: MySQL, Microsoft SQL Server, PostgreSQL, Redis, MongoDB, Oracle
It is secure: Alibaba Cloud offers a Key Management Service (KMS) – a fully managed encryption service – that helps clients create, delete, and manage encrypted keys to protect their PHI. Once configured, both the covered entities and their associated business will be able to use the encryption keys while accessing the data.
Meanwhile, Action Trail allows customers to protect their data using security analysis, intrusion detection (ID), resource tracking, and compliance audit functions. It also records all account activities like login information, for example, that would include: login time, IP address used, and a number of failed attempts.
Auto Scaling makes it possible to meet versatile resource demands which allow for expanding and contracting of cloud computing resources at any given moment and depending on the requirements for the increase (or decrease) in the volume of traffic or amount of data.
Alibaba Cloud also supports the use of a Business Associate Agreement (BAA) for customers that require a guarantee of strict compliance with HIPAA requirements for handling their PHI.
Consider custom cloud storage services
Although we have just seen the best HIPAA compliant storage services, and that they can be relied upon to deliver above and beyond any covered entities’ expectations, they aren’t the only options. A covered entity – and its business associate – can create its own HIPAA compliant cloud storage solution in-house.
A major point to consider: Technically, there is no such thing as a “HIPAA compliant cloud drive.” This is because HIPAA compliance can only be achieved by the actions of the people involved – the data owner, database owner, administrator, end-user, and the business associate. And, this means that even if all care is taken to secure data in the cloud, it will still come to naught if there are misconfigurations on the healthcare providers’ side.
So, the best option would be to create and use a custom storage solution of your own which you would then be able to control and share with your business associate as per a BAA.
As a matter of fact, there are more advantages to choosing to create your own custom HIPAA compliant storage services:
- Cost-effective – the development platforms are an excellent ROI; there is no need to pay the large tech companies a lot of money; covered entities “pay for what they need and build what they want”
- Less overhead – companies can cut tech teams as the custom HIPAA compliant storage services are easy to design, create, and administer
- Easy to master – thanks to low-code technology, creating a HIPAA compliant cloud database that is also safe and secure for PHI information has never been easier; even a citizen developer can soon create complex cloud data storage solutions
- High flexibility – the latest custom cloud designing tools can create digital storage spaces that are highly flexible; this makes the storage future-proof and can expand or contract easily to meet the cloud computing requirements of the day as well as HIPAA compliance rules for data safety
- In-house support – in case things go wrong, there is no need to chase tech support from outside; anyone who has designed the cloud database storages will be able to easily resolve any issues at hand – you build it, you manage it
Finally, it really is convenient to be able to design your own in-house HIPAA compliant database that is just as good (if not better) than any of the best HIPAA compliant cloud storage services out there.
In fact, contact us and we will show you how convenient it all is to create a custom database solution that meets all your business’ requirements and is HIPAA compliant.