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Is Google’s G Suite HIPAA Compliant?


Many practices want to use cloud storage services like Google drive and hosted email.  Is Google’s G-Suite HIPAA compliant?

First, let’s review what’s actually in Google’s G-Suite, Google’s paid version of a variety of productivity tools.

Email

Most famously, G-Suite includes Gmail, an excellent and easy-to-use email platform.  Users go through the famous Gmail portal, but their email address is their own custom email (@yourcompany.com).  G-Suite customers get 30GB of inbox storage, and are able to use Microsoft Outlook and other email clients.

One important note is that the paid version of Gmail doesn’t scan your emails to show you ads.  Paid Gmail users never see ads.

Calendar

The calendar in G-Suite lets you plan meetings with other people, and schedule appointments.  Many EMR/EHR systems offer integration with Google’s Calendar for scheduling.  The calendar is also well integrated into other G Suite applications like Gmail, Drive, Contacts, Sites and Hangouts.

Cloud File Storage

G Suite includes Google Drive, a tool to easily store, sync and share files.  Files sync between your desktop, mobile devices, and the cloud.  You can control who can see which files.

Collaboration Tools

G Suite includes web-based versions of some simple-but-solid productivity tools.  This includes:

  • Docs (kind of like Microsoft Word)
  • Sheets (kind of like Microsoft Excel)
  • Slides (kind of like Microsoft PowerPoint)
  • Forms (for building forms on the web)
  • Sites (a tool for building an intranet)

Note-Taking

G Suite includes a tool called Google Keep for note-taking (kind of like Evernote).

Instant Messaging and Video Conference

G Suite includes two tools for connecting with people digitally:

  • Google Hangouts for instant messaging
  • Hangouts Meet for secure video conferencing

G Suite also comes in the two flavors — the $5/user/month version that works for most people, and the $10/user/month plan if you want extra data loss prevention features.

If 30GB/user isn’t enough, you can also buy more space.  It’s shared across all of your G Suite applications.

Will Google sign a BAA for G Suite?

Yes, Google will execute a HIPAA Business Associate agreement (BAA) with paying customers of G Suite.

Be aware of the stipulations

It’s important to note that the G Suite Business Associate Agreement covers ONLY some of the G Suite services.  As of this publishing, here are the services that are and aren’t part of the G Suite BAA:

g-suite-hipaa-compliant-services

You are still responsible for verifying your compliance

Just because Google is ensuring security when it comes to the actual storage of your PHI doesn’t mean that you can sit back and let them do all the work. You still need to be proactive when it comes to making sure your information is protected. Two-factor authentication, permissions management, password policies, employee use policies — all of these are still your responsibility to implement and test.  But keeping these things in mind, G Suite can now be a convenient tool in helping to manage your PHI.

So is G Suite HIPAA compliant?

Yes, G Suite can be used by medical practices in ways that are HIPAA compliant.  However, this is only true if you:

  1. Use the paid version of Google’s G Suite,
  2. Sign a HIPAA Business Associate Agreement (BAA) with Google, and
  3. Take correct steps to set up G Suite to make sure your practice is HIPAA compliant

What should you do next?

  1. Get our free “17-Step Guide on Gmail and HIPAA Compliance” to learn more about keeping your email safe.
  2. Know someone who might like this article?  Share it!
  3. Have questions or something to add?  Let us know in the comments below!
By |2018-11-07T22:26:59+00:00October 2nd, 2018|Cloud Cyber Security, HIPAA|8 Comments

8 Comments

  1. Luz Reyes December 24, 2015 at 4:13 am - Reply

    I’ve used the 50% off coupon code (expires 12/31/15): 47FUDQ7P6FW6N9 in my Google Apps for Work Subscription but it’s saying that the coupon has been used already… let me know how to proceed

    • Josh Ablett January 8, 2016 at 11:12 am - Reply

      Hi Luz – we have a number of other coupon codes. Drop us a line at info [at] adeliarisk.com with your email address and we’ll send another one over to you.

  2. Alan Algee November 14, 2017 at 8:03 pm - Reply

    If we are talking to a patient through Meet on our end but the patient is on a different platform (e.g. the free version of Google), does this mean that the conference is no longer HIPAA compliant?

    • Josh Ablett January 2, 2018 at 3:55 pm - Reply

      Hi – if you’re using Meet as part of the paid G Suite offering, and you’ve (1) signed the HIPAA BAA and (2) confirmed that all of the settings are configured the right way to be HIPAA compliant, then your whole session (both on your side and the patient’s side) would be HIPAA compliant. Great question!

  3. Clarence May 17, 2018 at 4:40 pm - Reply

    Great info – thanks! Are both the $5/user and $10/user plans HIPAA compliant? What are the benefits of the top tier plan?

    • Josh Ablett May 18, 2018 at 2:05 pm - Reply

      Yes, they can both be made HIPAA-compliant. The main differences between the two plans are that the more expensive plan has more storage shared across Gmail and Google Drive, plus the more expensive plan has a formal records retention product (called Vault). Most small practices we work with start with the $5 plan (and archive their email instead of deleting it), and then bump up to the $10/month plan if they need it. Hope that helps!

  4. Ron September 19, 2018 at 10:56 pm - Reply

    I spoke with Google and was advised the BAA didn’t extend to Outlook users. Was this accurate, the rep didn’t seem to sure?

    • Josh Ablett September 26, 2018 at 12:43 pm - Reply

      What we’ve learned in talking to vendors about HIPAA is that they default to saying “no” unless they’ve been told to explicitly say “yes.” Unfortunately, that means vendors often give incomplete answers, which scares people off.

      We asked Google the same question, but really challenged them on why they said “no.” After a number and back and forth conversations, we got to the real answer:

      First, Outlook is made by Microsoft, not Google, so Google will never assert that your use of Outlook is HIPAA-compliant. If you’re using Outlook, then you need to make sure that your computer is configured to be HIPAA compliant (either on your own or working with a service like ours). Once the email lands in Outlook, HIPAA compliance is 100% on your shoulders, not Google’s.

      Second, Google Contacts is not covered by the HIPAA BAA with Google, so you should never use Contacts to store PHI. This relates to Outlook because the Outlook sync utility (GSSMO) syncs emails, calendars, AND contacts. If you’re confident that you’re not storing PHI in contacts, then you should be fine. If you are, then you should (1) stop and (2) disable the syncing of Contacts in Outlook. To disable syncing of contacts, it requires some hardcore Registry updates, so feel free to Contact us for instructions.

      Lastly, the connection between your Outlook and Google’s servers is encrypted when you’re using GSSMO, so that part is definitely compliant with HIPAA.

      So Outlook can definitely be used with G Suite in a way that’s compliant with HIPAA. You just need to make sure it’s configured correctly and that you’re doing all the right things to protect PHI on your computer, and not just in the cloud.

      Hope that helps!

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