Choosing a Secure API for Your Healthcare App

Not all healthcare app APIs are secure. Read Healthie's best tips for choosing and utilizing a secure API that you can feel confident in.

Application Programming Interfaces (APIs) have made communication between software applications seamless, increasing flexibility and innovation in consumer tech, fintech, and many other industries. Today, there is an emerging marketplace of healthcare APIs that are making it easy to share client data and increase connectivity. 

While the benefits of APIs, including in digital health, are evident and plenty, it’s critical to ensure that particularly in a highly-regulated, highly-sensitive industry, data is appropriately protected and secured, following HIPAA and SOC 2-level security standards. s. APIs are the powerful doors that open access to highly sensitive subscriber data. While powerful in facilitating interconnectivity across platforms and apps, enabling unprecedented levels of data analytics, and opening a new way of digial health transformation, it’s important to ensure that data is flowing securely and thoughtfully. 

In other words, as you’re thinking about incorporating APIs in your digital health stack, it’s important to ensure that you’re taking advantage of the connectivity and collaboration, without opening your company, and liability up, to security challenges and data protection issues. 

The Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act of 1996 (HIPAA) is strict about how personal health information must be safeguarded, so allowing other parties to access this data can be nervewracking. In this article, we have some tips for choosing, and utilizing, a secure API that you can feel confident in.

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How to select a secure API in healthcare 

When you’re choosing a secure healthcare API, data security should be a high priority. Here’s a checklist of things to think about, so you can ensure you’re choosing an API with the highest level of protection.

Look for strong documentation and support

Your healthcare API provider should provide clear documentation, making it as simple as possible for you to implement the API into your healthcare app and access upgrades. They should also be committed to offering continuous support, so you can stay informed about updates and contact their developer team with any queries.

Sign a Business Associate’s Agreement

HIPAA recognizes that covered entities might allow third parties, such as telehealth platforms or EHR providers, to come into contact with confidential health information. These third parties are called business associates, and covered entities must “obtain satisfactory assurances from its business associate that the business associate will appropriately safeguard the protected health information.”

This means, to maintain compliance, your secure API provider needs to sign a Business Associate’s Agreement (BAA) with you. The BAA will clearly outline exactly what they do to protect any and all confidential data that they come into contact with. You’re best to go through it with your lawyer and make sure it’s sufficient. 

Compare security measures

There are a number of key safeguards that your API provider must have in place to ensure HIPAA compliance. These include limiting who can access data, tracking system activity, and encryption. As an additional best practice, seek APIs that are SOC-2 Compliant, undergo annual third-party penetration tests, and have documented security practices & policies. Third party security platforms like Vanta are a great industry benchmark for assessing a company’s commitment to security principles. 

Be wary of open-source APIs

Unlike proprietary software, open-source APIs allow developers to change the code however they like. This increases flexibility, but does come with a few drawbacks, particularly when you’re handling something as sensitive as personal health information. 

Open-source API’s protection is not usually a priority, as they are often created as community projects. This means software quality can be inconsistent, as different parts of it are created by developers with varying skill levels. There also may not be proper security procedures in place and, if a vulnerability is identified, it may not be addressed quickly. For your healthcare app, you might decide to go with a proprietary API that’s maintained by a dedicated team.

Be wary of connector tools

Many businesses use connector tools to automate their workflow. These tools can streamline your work day by adding events to your calendar straight from your email, or automatically assigning tasks to your staff. However, it’s worth noting that many standard connector tools aren’t HIPAA compliant. When you’re working with sensitive health information, it’s much better to use a HIPAA compliant secure API.

Run your own tests

It can be tempting to put all your resources into creating new functionality, but it's vital to allocate time and energy to regular security testing. Even though the provider will maintain the API and take steps to make sure it’s secure, it’s a good idea to run your own tests. Taking the time to hack into your own system is a great way to see how your API’s protection and integration actually holds up.

Healthie’s API is designed for health tech

Healthie’s API was designed with the healthcare industry in mind.

Every aspect of Healthie’s software meets the highest certification standards for data security and privacy.

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