Next named exclusive Trail Blazer in NEW 2024 Radicati DLP Market Quadrant Report Read the Report
Updated: May 24, 2024   |   Lauren Koppelman

Is Google Docs HIPAA compliant?

Go back

Google’s all-in-one product suite makes digital collaboration easier than ever before. However, healthcare organizations must take extra steps to stay HIPAA compliant and safeguard protected health information (PHI), making popular digital tools out of reach for compliance reasons. 

But is Google Docs HIPAA compliant? The short answer is yes, but only with proper configuration and appropriate use. Fortunately, the proper Google Workspace setup will allow you to leverage the convenience of Google products without breaching HIPAA

In this guide, we’ll explore how Google Docs fits into the HIPAA framework and how to use the platform in a compliant manner. We’ll also explore the must-have features for any cloud-based document and collaboration solution for healthcare providers. 

In this article: 

Th‎e ins and outs of Google Docs compliance

Google Workspace for Healthcare and Life Sciences screenshot

Google Docs, part of the Google Workspace suite, can be HIPAA compliant when used appropriately. One of the primary reasons is its robust security measures, including the use of Advanced Encryption Standard (AES) encryption for data both in transit and at rest.

This high level of encryption securely encodes any data—in the form of documents, spreadsheets, and more—to safeguard it from unauthorized access. 

However, it’s up to you to use Google Docs in a compliant way. Follow these steps to stay HIPAA-compliant when using Google products. 

1. Choose the right Google Workspace plan

Google stresses that you can’t add patient data to your account unless you have a compliant account first. To handle PHI legally, entities must subscribe to a paid Google Workspace account.

This subscription provides access to a suite of tools necessary for healthcare operations, including Gmail, Calendar, Meet, and Google Docs. 

2. Configure Google Workspace to comply with HIPAA

You need more than a paid Google Workspace account to be HIPAA-compliant. Next, you need to configure Google to meet HIPAA standards: 

  • Restrict file names: Avoid using PHI, such as a patient’s name, in file names.
  • Manage file sharing permissions: Carefully monitor how users share files in Google Workspace. Configurations that allow access via a shareable link should be disabled to prevent unauthorized access.
  • Limit external sharing: To reduce the risk of exposure, minimize or completely restrict the sharing of files with external parties.
  • Control third-party applications: To prevent potential data leaks, manage or disable third-party applications that might access Google Workspace data.

3. Sign a Business Associate Agreement (BAA)

Under HIPAA, any service provider handling PHI on behalf of a healthcare entity is considered a business associate. Google provides a BAA for Google Workspace clients, which you must sign to ensure compliance.

Signing this agreement also clarifies that Google is not liable for any misuse of the platform once compliance measures are in place, which is why proper setup and training are so important. 

4. Train employees

Educate employees on how to handle PHI within Google Docs and Google Workspace. They should understand the importance of accessing PHI only as authorized and not using shared accounts or settings that might expose sensitive information to unauthorized individuals.

5 ‎must-have features for cloud-based collaboration and storage tools

Team sitting around a table with laptops open

‎Google has many solutions and features, but it isn’t a fit for some healthcare providers, even with the proper setup. If you’re looking for a Google Docs alternative, consider looking for platforms with these features.

1. End-to-end encryption

Ensure the platform offers end-to-end encryption to protect data both in transit and at rest. This prevents unauthorized access during data transmission and when stored on the cloud.

2. Access controls

Robust access control settings are crucial. The platform should allow administrators to set permissions based on user roles, ensuring that only authorized individuals can access sensitive information.

3. Audit trails

A comprehensive audit trail tracks who accessed what data and when. Audit documentation is critical for maintaining data integrity and for investigative purposes should a data breach occur.

4. Data loss prevention (DLP)

DLP tools like the Reveal Platform by Next automatically detect potential data breaches or non-compliant actions. They can also keep you safe by preventing the accidental sharing of sensitive information.

5. Compliance certifications

Look for platforms that boast additional certifications relevant to your industry, such as GDPR, SOC2, or PCI, which ensure they adhere to stringent data protection standards.

Se‎curing data with confidence

Healthcare provider using Google Docs and other cloud services

‎While Google Docs incorporates strong security measures, achieving HIPAA compliance requires careful setup and disciplined platform use. Choosing a cloud service isn’t just about functionality; it’s about protecting every piece of data against breaches and unauthorized access, maintaining patient trust and integrity, and avoiding costly fines and penalties for non-compliance.

Protect your data, safeguard your operations, and ensure compliance with the best tools and practices in cloud-based collaboration and storage.

Reveal is an advanced DLP solution that can help your organization ensure compliance. The platform enforces your company’s data handling policy with lightweight, next-gen endpoint agents that deliver machine learning at the point of risk. Reveal identifies and categorizes data as it's being used to prevent unauthorized access and misuse of sensitive data such as ePHI.

Reveal also promotes a more HIPAA-conscious workforce by providing informative messaging that describes why an activity was restricted by the data handling policy.

Our advanced data loss prevention measures protect sensitive information and help to ensure regulatory compliance with the utmost reliability and efficiency.

Your peace of mind is worth the investment. Get a Reveal demo now.

Fr‎equently asked questions

What are the common risks associated with using non-compliant cloud-based tools?

Using non-compliant cloud-based tools exposes you to several risks, including data breaches and unauthorized access. These risks can lead to legal penalties, financial losses, and reputational damage, especially if you mishandle sensitive or regulated PHI.

How does the scalability of a cloud service affect compliance?

Scalability is crucial because it affects how well a service can handle growth in data volume and user count while staying compliant. A scalable cloud service can efficiently manage increased demands without compromising security, ensuring compliance even as your organization grows. 

Can using multiple cloud services complicate compliance?

Yes, using multiple cloud services can complicate compliance. Different services have varying security standards and configurations. This fragmentation can lead to gaps in security and challenges in uniformly protecting data. Maintain consistent security practices across services to mitigate these risks.


See how Next protects your employees and prevents data loss