Finding the Right HIPAA Compliant Scheduling Software in 2023

October 27, 2023

Online scheduling software lets you book clients into your calendar without the back-and-forth emails or phone calls. As with any technology you bring into your practice, it’s critical to ensure you rely on HIPAA compliant appointment scheduling software. Staying in compliance with HIPAA (Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act) helps you avoid costly legal and financial penalties.  

With so many different options on the market, you might feel confused about what to look for in a scheduling solution. Keep reading to understand what you actually need in a compliant appointment scheduling software solution. You’ll also learn how to avoid the common pitfalls of HIPAA compliance.

Key Takeaways

  • There are key features to look for when choosing HIPAA compliant scheduling software. The right solution can protect you from costly penalties and business disruptions. 
  • Having HIPAA compliance in scheduling software doesn’t guarantee safety. Anyone using the software needs to be trained properly. 
  • Many health and wellness practitioners choose a HIPAA compliant all-in-one practice management solution that includes online scheduling software to simplify workflows, limit integrations, and future proof their practice.

Understanding HIPAA Compliance in Appointment Scheduling Software

Practice Better app UI screenshot and a woman sitting at a desk using a phone to schedule appointments.

There are any number of reasons a health and wellness practice might find themselves in hot water with HIPAA – from having inadequate policies and procedures to lacking proper client consent for specific uses of their PHI (personal health information).

Let’s take a closer look at what HIPAA is and how it impacts appointment scheduling software. 

What is HIPAA (Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act)?

Protecting each client’s private health information isn’t just the right thing to do – it’s the law.

In the US, HIPAA is a federal law that imposes legal obligations on healthcare providers, covered entities, and their business associates. Since many wellness practitioners and alternative care providers fall into the healthcare provider category under HIPAA, it’s important to understand the ins and outs of HIPAA compliance. 

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) says HIPAA exists “to protect sensitive patient health information from being disclosed without the patient’s consent or knowledge.” 

The HIPAA Privacy Rule standards set forth strict regulations to safeguard the privacy and security of individuals’ protected health information, or PHI.

This includes information wellness pros routinely collect, store, and transmit – like health histories, treatment protocols, client journal entries, billing information, and more. The HIPPA Rules also extend into to the software healthcare providers use.

Key Features in HIPAA Compliant Online Scheduling Software

A mobile phone view of hipaa compliant scheduling software practice better, prompting the user to book an appointment for a discovery call.

While any scheduling solution can claim to be HIPAA compliant, they don’t all offer the same features and functionality.

It’s important to ensure any scheduling solution you’re evaluating includes the HIPAA compliant features outlined below. 

Security Measures

HIPAA protects PHI, so your scheduling software should prioritize patient data security. Here’s what to look for:

1. Proven end-to-end data encryption

Your scheduling software needs encryption techniques to protect patient data during transmission and at rest. For example, Practice Better encrypts data during transfer and at rest using the industry-standard TLS (Transport Layer Security) 1.2 and AES 256-bit encryption (Advanced Encryption Standard). It also encrypts backups and logs data.

  • While there are several technologies and protocols for protecting data in transit between applications, TLS is considered the gold standard. TLS keeps the data confidential during the appointment scheduling process. For example, suppose a client uses their mobile device to access your scheduling app and book an appointment. In that case, TLS encrypts information transmitted between their device and the software’s servers – like their name, contact information, and appointment day/time.
  • AES is also gold-standard technology for protecting patient data at rest, like when it’s stored on servers. It’s a virtually impenetrable symmetric encryption algorithm. (Fun fact: it’s even trusted by the government to protect military-grade information.)

2. Tight access controls

User authentication and access controls help to ensure only authorized people can see client data. Online appointment scheduling software should allow you to grant different levels of access to staff members based on their roles.

You can help to avoid unintended data exposure by setting access controls so staff handling PHI only see the information necessary to perform their duties.  

3. Locked down data storage and physical security measures

Data should be stored on secure servers with the right physical and technical safeguards to protect PHI, like surveillance cameras, access keycards, and network firewalls.

For example, Practice Better trusts Amazon Web Services and to store customer data in the cloud. The core infrastructure is hosted using these two services. Business Associate Agreements and Data Processing Agreements require these providers to meet the highest level of security and privacy for storing personal health information.

Practice Better also ensures servers are maintained by an SSAE 18 provider that uses industry-leading security tools and best practices. SSAE 18 is an auditing standard developed by the American Institute of Certified Public Accountants (AICPA). 

4. Regular security audits

An audit trail feature tracks and logs all actions and changes to client health data within the software. This helps both with monitoring user activity and accountability.

5. Frequent scanning and monitoring

All customer and internal networks should be scanned regularly for vulnerabilities.

Your HIPAA compliant software should also automatically record all login attempts – successful and unsuccessful – along with logins from unusual locations or unrecognized devices. 

6. Reliable updates and maintenance

Your HIPAA compliant appointment scheduling software should automatically receive regular updates and security patches to address vulnerabilities and stay updated with evolving HIPAA regulations.

7. Strong data backup and recovery

Proper backup and recovery procedures keep client-scheduling data from being lost in the event of system failures or data corruption.

The backup copies of this data should also be protected and stored securely. 

Business Associate Agreement (BAA)

Health and wellness practitioners are responsible for ensuring their business associates comply with HIPAA rules.

According to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS), “a business associate is a person or entity that performs certain functions or activities that involve the use or disclosure of protected health information on behalf of, or provides services to, a covered entity.” 

A Business Associate Agreement, or BAA, is a legal contract you sign with your scheduling software provider to protect client data under HIPAA.

The BAA should outline all responsibilities and obligations when handling PHI and detail what actions are required if a data breach occurs.

For example, Practice Better customers can easily review and sign a BAA directly from their portal

Patient Engagement Tools

The most flexible online scheduling software solutions will go beyond creating appointments and help with client engagement.

Here are some examples to consider:

  • Allow clients to book and confirm appointments through your website or a client portal. The portal should provide a secure and authenticated login process for clients.
  • Send automated reminders to keep clients engaged and reduce no-shows. These features should support secure and encrypted messaging to protect PHI during transmission. Clients should be able to opt out of receiving reminders if they don’t want them. 
  • Automate the collection of client information through templated forms. The software should create and store electronic forms in compliance with HIPAA requirements.

Advantages of HIPAA Compliant Appointment Scheduling Software

An example of a clinician's HIPAA compliant scheduling software.

There are multiple benefits associated with implementing HIPAA compliant scheduling software.

Beyond the obvious financial and risk-avoidance upsides, it’s important to remember the obligation to your clients.

Wellness pros take pride in caring, which extends to everything surrounding the people you serve – including their privacy. 

  • Avoid costly penalties. The cost of not being in HIPAA compliance can be devastating for a business, ranging from $100 to $50,000 per violation. With HIPAA, ignorance is not bliss: not knowing the rules isn’t an excuse for failing to comply. 
  • Build trust and credibility. HIPAA protects your clients’ right to notification when their PHI has been compromised. Disclosure is the right thing to do, but it’s also mandated by your government or regulator if you’re a licensed practitioner.
  • Maintain business continuity – Violating HIPAA rules isn’t just expensive, it’s disruptive. Navigating the regulatory bodies, finding legal support, and keeping the lines of communication open with your clients and staff will all steal time away from running your practice. 

Common Pitfalls to Avoid When Choosing HIPAA Compliant Scheduling Software

Woman using HIPAA compliant scheduling software on her mobile phone.

Different scheduling software offerings have unique strengths and weaknesses.

You can protect your practice by conducting regular risk assessments to identify and address potential vulnerabilities: 

Issue 1: Assuming all scheduling software is HIPAA compliant. The vendor should clearly state that their solution is HIPAA compliant. Remember: you don’t have to take their word for it. Don’t be afraid to ask for tangible proof.

Issue 2: Pockets of risk. Your scheduling software might include other handy features, but it’s a problem if they expose PHI.

For example, if a template for appointment reminders automatically includes a reference to a client’s medical condition, it could expose that information to someone using the client’s device. Or if reminders are sent via SMS or regular email, there’s a risk that they could be intercepted during transmission. 

Issue 3: No Business Associate Agreement. Any software vendor that ensures HIPAA compliance and handles PHI should have a BAA. Failure to do so can raise significant compliance and legal issues for both parties.

Issue 4: Ignoring training and support. Your HIPAA compliant scheduling software is only as effective as those using it. Ensure your team understands how to safely use the software to protect your business.

For example, staff with access to your scheduling software should understand the importance of strong, unique passwords and how to manage them securely.

Integrating HIPAA Compliant Scheduling Software with Existing Systems

A view of HIPAA compliant Google calendar integration in Practice Better

In many cases, your scheduling software must integrate with Electronic Health Records (EHR) and other tools you use to run your practice, like billing and telehealth. If this integration isn’t secure, it can lead to data breaches or unauthorized access to patient records.

Before fully implementing an integration, thoroughly test the data exchange process to ensure that it functions correctly and securely and complies with HIPAA requirements.

Document your integration process, including policies, procedures, and security measures in place. This will help you demonstrate HIPAA compliance in the event of an audit.

There is a simple way of dealing with complicated integrations. Invest in a HIPAA compliant all-in-one practice management solution with robust scheduling capabilities to streamline your business tools from many to one.

It’s the smart way to access a full range of HIPAA compliant features that automate your workflows and engage clients on multiple levels. 

Case Studies: How a Wellness Pro Uses HIPAA Compliant Scheduling Software

Example of a HIPAA compliant appointment scheduler used by registered dietitian Rhyan Geiger.

Rhyan Geiger is a Registered Dietitian specializing in vegan nutrition. She helps people 1:1 easily transition to vegan living through her practice.

Rhyan uses the HIPAA compliant scheduling feature in Practice Better to make it easy for clients to book time in her calendar:

  • For potential clients to easily find her services, she includes a discovery call widget on her website and a link to her booking page in Practice Better. 
  • She offers a 20-minute free discovery call. Clients sign up using Practice Better scheduling and fill out an application form.
  • Once a client has paid their invoice, they get access to the food journal to keep track of their baseline to provide context for making vegan swaps.

Find more stories of HIPAA compliant scheduling software success.

Put HIPAA Compliance at the Top of Your Agenda

The global appointment scheduling software market size is expected to reach $546.31 million by 2026. If you don’t already use scheduling software, you soon will be, but sifting through all the options on the market can be confusing. Add in HIPAA compliance and it’s downright daunting. 

The good news is that HIPAA has a surprisingly simple goal for its seemingly complicated legislation: To keep protected health information private.

Your scheduling software is not immune to creating HIPAA compliance gaps.

Make sure you’re fully protected by choosing HIPAA compliant scheduling software that checks all the right boxes.

If you find the idea of an all-in-one practice HIPAA compliant management platform appealing, you can learn more about privacy and security settings in Practice Better. 

Frequently Asked Questions

Does scheduling software need to be HIPAA compliant?

Yes. Any software that transmits/includes PHI needs to meet the requirements of HIPAA by including appropriate safeguards for privacy and security. 

Can Calendly be HIPAA compliant?

No, Calendly is not a HIPAA-compliant scheduling tool. Calendly’s website states, “Calendly is not intended to be used by users to collect sensitive personally identifiable information.”

Calendly also does not sign BAAs with HIPAA-covered entities.

Is Acuity Scheduling HIPAA compliant?

Acuity Scheduling (formerly Squarespace Scheduling) can be HIPAA compliant for practitioners on their Powerhouse plan.

Acuity is willing to sign a BAA, but it only covers Acuity, not other Squarespace features.

You shouldn’t maintain or transmit PHI through Squarespace outside of Acuity. 

What is the best platform for scheduling?

The best platform for scheduling is the one that checks all the boxes for the needs of your unique practice.

Many wellness pros find that an all-in-one HIPAA compliant practice management solution with flexible features that allow them to customize their schedule is the best solution for covering all their business needs. 

What is the main purpose of HIPAA compliant scheduling software?

The primary purpose of HIPAA compliant scheduling software is to make sure wellness pros don’t have to choose between managing and scheduling client appointments and protecting sensitive patient health information per HIPAA regulations.

It lets you maintain the confidentiality and security of patient data throughout your scheduling process.

Practice Better is the complete practice management platform for nutritionists, dietitians, and wellness professionals. Streamline your practice and begin your 14-day free trial today.

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