Is Google Analytics HIPAA-Compliant? - All You Need to Know

Is Google Analytics HIPAA-Compliant? - All You Need to Know

Ensuring HIPAA compliance with Google Analytics is critical in healthcare and the alarming frequency of data breaches undermines its urgency.

By: Hareem Sajjad | 9 mins read
Published: Sep 27, 2023 6:20:18 AM | Updated: May 24, 2024 01:45:03 AM

The rise in data breaches and leakage of sensitive information especially in the healthcare industry has caused a massive uproar from patients who receive targeted marketing campaigns regarding their illnesses. 

For instance, business associates reported in April 2023, that 92.2% of patients were affected by 13 data breach incidents. This amounts to 4,077,019 people whose medical information was leaked.

Incidents like these have been frequent for a long time and have forced the government of the United States to lay down a set of regulations to protect sensitive patient data from data breaches and theft. 

Hence, an act called the Health Insurance Profitability and Accountability Act was introduced in August 1996.

Contact Us:

You can reach out to our team at Analytico to help you audit your data collection and handling practices to ensure they are compliant with HIPAA standards. We can identify gaps in your data and improve its accuracy so that you can make effective data-driven decisions.

While there have been many analytics platforms and software directed specifically toward data handling for healthcare industries, the largest analytics platform, Google Analytics is not completely HIPAA compliant

Therefore, in this post, we will walk you through everything you need to know about the gap in the capabilities of Google Analytics and HIPAA standards.

What is HIPAA Compliance?

The Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act (HIPAA) enforces essential regulations to safeguard sensitive healthcare information in the United States. Compliance with these rules ensures patient data's privacy, security, and integrity. 

It covers entities such as healthcare providers, insurers, and clearinghouses that must comply with HIPAA. Moreover, business associates, such as vendors and service providers that deal with protected health information (PHI) also have to comply with these standards.

The Office for Civil Rights (OCR) of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services is responsible for overseeing HIPAA’s enforcement. Companies that do not comply with these regulations have to bear severe penalties that can range to criminal charges. 

For instance, 

A single violation can incur fines of up to $50,000, with a maximum annual penalty of $1.5 million for each provision of the Act violated.

Unfortunately, despite the strict emphasis on data privacy and associated penalties, there has been a disturbing rise in data breaches that have undermined the critical importance of compliance. 

A major reason for data breaches is due to the complexities of HIPAA configurations. It can be quite difficult to align every single data handling practice with HIPAA regulations on top of understanding these rules. 

Therefore, at Analytico, we have a team of trained professionals who can help you understand HIPAA regulations. Our team can help you find suitable analytics solutions aligned with HIPAA and audit your data-handling practices to ensure you make accurate data-driven decisions.

Recently, there have been numerous high-profile cases, including incidents involving major healthcare institutions such as GoodRX, a digital healthcare platform, and BetterHelp, an online counseling service, that have exposed millions of patient records. 

This emphasizes the urgent need to implement strict measures to ensure compliance.

The 18 HIPAA Identifiers

HIPAA regulations protect patient privacy and security by safeguarding their Protected Health Information (PHI) which is sensitive medical information. It highlights 18 specific identifiers that can potentially reveal a patient's identity when combined with healthcare information. 

It is crucial to hide these identifiers as they maintain confidentiality and prevent unauthorized access to personal health data. 

The list of the 18 HIPAA identifiers includes:

  1. Name
  2. Geographic identifiers
  3. Dates related to an individual
  4. Telephone numbers
  5. Fax numbers
  6. Email addresses
  7. Social Security numbers
  8. Medical record number
  9. Health plan beneficiary numbers
  10. Account number
  11. Certificate/license numbers
  12. Vehicle identifiers and serial numbers
  13. Device identifiers and serial numbers
  14. Web URLs
  15. Internet Protocol (IP) addresses
  16. Biometric identifiers
  17. Full-face photographs or comparable images
  18. Any other unique identifying number, characteristic, or code

Google Analytics Features and HIPAA Compliance

Before you start using GA in healthcare settings, you need to address any confusion you might have on how to comply with HIPAA standards.

Here are a couple of things to keep in mind:

  • Data Collection: Ensure that you only collect necessary patient information such as name, age, and medical history in a secure way while omitting irrelevant data. 
  • Data Retention Policies: Establish policies that only store patient data for a required amount of time in Google Analytics to protect patient data. For instance, store data for no more than 6 months or 1 year and ensure that it is deleted from the system safely once it is no longer required. 
  • Tracking User Behavior: Apply anonymization techniques when you analyze user behavior for mapping patient journeys to maintain HIPAA compliance for confidentiality. For example, when you collect information on user interactions on your website, make sure that a user profile is not being created in GA.  
  • Integrating Google Analytics with HIPAA-Compliant Platforms: Try to integrate platforms that can easily connect with GA and uphold HIPAA standards to ensure safe data handling.
  • Consent Management and Google Analytics: Ensure you collect data by implementing mechanisms ensuring user consent. Incorporate user consent forms on your website and ensure that they explicitly convey what data is to be collected from the user.
  • Data Security Measures in Google Analytics: Implement robust security measures within Google Analytics such as access controls and encryption to safeguard patient data. GA has a ton of controls and resources that you can use to decide how you want data to be collected, stored, and accessed.
  • IP Anonymization: Enhance privacy protections through IP address anonymization techniques in Google Analytics to conceal patient identities.
  • Cross-Domain Tracking: Implement cross-domain tracking practices while remaining HIPAA compliant to ensure that patient data is transferred securely between domains.
  • Custom Reports: You can generate custom reports in GA and filter out sensitive patient data to ensure they comply with HIPAA regulations.
  • Google Analytics 4 (GA4): The updates in GA4 are fast-paced and require careful attention to ensure that the latest features securely implement patient privacy techniques.
  • Data Sampling: Utilize data sampling techniques to balance the need for insights with the protection of patient information.
  • Real-time Reporting: The real-time reporting features in GA ensure that patient data is handled securely and promptly.
  • Exporting Data from Google Analytics: Establish protocols for exporting data from Google Analytics that comply with HIPAA standards to ensure patient information is transmitted securely.

Evaluating Google Analytics for HIPAA Compliance

It is crucial to inspect how Google Analytics handles data when assessing it for HIPAA compliance. While it offers features such as event tracking and user behavior analysis, you still need to carefully examine its alignment with HIPAA standards

To ensure compliance, it is necessary to implement access controls and anonymization techniques as well as conduct thorough risk assessments. You need to evaluate their data retention policies and integration with HIPAA-compliant platforms to avoid potential risks.

Addressing Data Security in Google Analytics

It is very important to ensure that your data is secure in Google Analytics. The use of encryption protocols to transmit data and for access controls is necessary. These practices can help ensure that your Google Analytics account is protected against unauthorized access. 

The use of authentication procedures, regular security audits, secure configurations, and data masking techniques can further help ensure that Google Analytics is compliant with HIPAA regulations.

Google Analytics Data Handling and HIPAA Compliance

If healthcare companies intend to use Google Analytics to handle their data then the careful consideration of HIPAA requirements increases. Following data minimization principles can ensure that only necessary information is collected and there is no risk of unauthorized access. 

HIPAA regulations outline that it is necessary to maintain data integrity and accessibility for compliance. Companies that use GA for healthcare data need to implement data anonymization and pseudonymization practices to safeguard patient information. 

FYI:

Data anonymization and pseudonymization techniques involve removing personal identifiers from collected data that can be used to identify the characteristics of patients. 

Steps to Achieve HIPAA Compliance with Google Analytics

Google Analytics is not HIPAA compliant on its own, however, you can make it compliant with the standards of these data privacy regulations.

You need to follow these steps to make Google Analytics HIPAA compliant:

  • Conduct a Risk Assessment: Carefully explore how Google Analytics implements data protection by performing a comprehensive risk assessment to identify gaps between its analytical services and HIPAA-compliant practices. This gap analysis will help you remedy the areas that are non-compliant by making changes and enhancements.
  • Create an Implementation Plan: Develop a detailed plan that outlines how to align Google Analytics usage with HIPAA compliance standards by considering how GA collects, stores, and accesses data. This includes giving access controls to only authorized personnel to restrict user permissions based on their role and level of authorization. 
  • Data Anonymization and Pseudonymization: Apply IP anonymization and user ID pseudonymization techniques to protect patient identities while conducting data analysis.
  • Employee Training: Conduct regular training for all members who are involved in Google Analytics usage to ensure that they understand the importance of HIPAA compliance and are aware of how to carry out best practices.
  • Document Compliance Measures: Maintain comprehensive documents of all compliance measures taken within Google Analytics which includes policies, procedures, and any custom configurations made to ensure compliance.
  • Regular Auditing: Conduct audits of Google Analytics configurations and usage regularly to ensure that all practices within the company match HIPAA standards. This helps identify and correct any potential issues instantly.
  • Establish Incident Response Protocols: Develop intensive emergency data breach protocols to rectify incidents promptly.
  • Stay Updated with GA Changes: Keep an eye out for updates or changes regarding HIPAA regulations or Google Analytics features and adjust accordingly to remain compliant.

Maintaining HIPAA Compliance with Google Analytics

To ensure that you remain compliant with HIPAA while using Google Analytics, it can be helpful to establish a maintenance strategy. One of the ways to do this can be to review compliance measures in GA regularly. 

These regular compliance checks could include evaluating access controls, data anonymization techniques, and other security features to ensure that they are effectively safeguarding patient information.

Moreover, staying up to date with changes in Google Analytics features and HIPAA Regulations alongside quick adaptation to changing practices can help you to evolve with standards and maintain a high level of data security.

Another way to ensure continuous HIPAA compliance is to maintain comprehensive documentation and records of measures, configurations, and audits. This can serve as a reference point to show HIPAA standards and maintain accountability and transparency.

Leveraging Additional Tools for Enhanced Compliance

Google Analytics might not be enough to robustly comply with all the HIPAA standards, therefore, it is wise to integrate supplementary tools and practices. Some HIPAA-compliant solutions involve platforms such as Amplitude, Mixpanel, and Piwik PRO.

These specialized platforms or software can boost data security and maintenance as they are specifically designed to meet the strict requirements of healthcare data handling.

Furthermore, establishing a comprehensive data backup and recovery system within Google Analytics can be quite helpful. It will ensure that patient information can be quickly restored in case of a data loss or breach to reduce potential risks and disruptions.

A safe way to protect data from breaches is to implement robust encryption protocols for data when it is being transmitted or it is at rest in Google Analytics. This can be considered as an additional layer of protection that safeguards patient information from unauthorized access.

Mixpanelmixpanel

This platform is a powerful analytics tool known for its user-centric approach. It not only offers valuable insights but also provides additional configurations to help achieve HIPAA compliance. 

If you want to consider Mixpanel for analytics, then you must ensure rigorous data handling practices and potentially explore third-party integrations to meet HIPAA standards.

The best part about using Mixpanel is that it offers its services at an affordable price which is rare in the data analytics industry.

Amplitudeamplitude

Another analytics platform that is used widely for HIPAA compliance is Amplitude. It requires careful customization to align with HIPAA compliance. Amplitude offers robust event tracking and user behavior analysis capabilities. 

However, you need to ensure that you have robust security measures, data anonymization techniques, and access controls to ensure patient data remains protected. If you intend to use Amplitude, then you will need a thorough understanding of both the platform's features.

Amplitude is also one of the relatively affordable options when it comes to analytics platforms.

Piwik PROpiwik pro

This platform is specifically tailored for healthcare companies that seek HIPAA-compliant analytics solutions. It prioritizes data privacy and security and thus provides a suite of robust analytics features such as consent management and on-premises deployment. 

Piwik PRO enables healthcare providers to collect, analyze, and utilize patient data while ensuring strict compliance with HIPAA regulations. It is a trusted option for organizations in the healthcare industry because it provides granular access controls for users to customize data handling.

If you do not have access to the Universal Analytics interface then Piwik PRO can be very helpful for you as it allows you to create custom dashboards with your choice of metrics and KPIs. 

Moreover, it is comparatively less expensive to sign a BAA with Piwik PRO as compared to other analytics solutions. 

It offers a range of services in the premium package in comparison to other platforms that are more expensive and do not have a variety of features in premium packages.

Become HIPAA-Compliant with Analytico

We understand that it can be difficult to explore so many different platforms and their configurations to find the best analytics solution for your company. The influx of information can be overwhelming and might cause you to miss out on some essential details.

Therefore, Analytico provides auditing and consulting services. Our team can help you choose the best HIPAA-compliant analytics solution for your organization by thoroughly analyzing and exploring platforms that are best suited for your business.

Moreover, our team can help you audit the data that has been collected to ensure that it complies with privacy regulations alongside identifying gaps and its accuracy. To find out how to audit your data, you can also download our checklist. (CTA)

Improve your Marketing Tech Stack

Our team specializes in optimizing marketing tech stacks to enhance ROI, data-driven decision-making, and patient experiences. Organizations need to have a robust measurement tech stack that comprises tools for data collection and analysis. 

These components could include engagement metrics like sessions and user recordings to refine user experiences. Moreover, conversions can be tracked through web forms and CTAs to ensure seamless interactions. 

You can use CRM platforms such as Salesforce and HubSpot to evaluate post-conversion engagement. Moreover, Google Analytics 4, UTM parameters, and tracking pixels can enhance acquisition strategies as they provide comprehensive insights into traffic sources. 

A well-structured tech stack empowers informed decisions and elevates online presence. Contact us to help you achieve HIPAA compliance for your business goals.

Conclusion

Ensuring HIPAA compliance with Google Analytics is critical in healthcare and the alarming frequency of data breaches highlights its urgency. HIPAA enforces rules for patient data privacy and Google Analytics, while not fully compliant, can be aligned. 

The steps to make GA HIPAA compliant include risk assessment, access controls, anonymization, and regular audits. Moreover, a sharp eye on the changes in GA can prove to be of vital importance.

Supplementary tools such as Piwik PRO or Mixpanel can enhance compliance as well. Strong encryption and data backup add layers of security alongside the maintenance of documentation that ensures transparency. This comprehensive approach secures patient data effectively.

 

To find out more, read our blogs.