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Is Google Drive HIPAA Compliant? Plus 5 Tips to Protect PHI in Google Drive

by Aware

In an always-online world, data security and compliance are critical considerations for businesses and organizations, especially those in the healthcare industry. HIPAA sets the standard for protecting sensitive patient information. This post explores the implications of storing PHI in Google Drive cloud storage and how to do so in a HIPAA-compliant way.


Learn more about how Aware protects sensitive data and supports HIPAA compliance in Google Drive


What is HIPAA?

Within the United States, medical information is governed under HIPAA, the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act. This Act ensures the confidentiality, integrity, and availability of protected health information (PHI) by imposing rules on healthcare providers, health plans, and their business associates.

HIPAA compliance consists of various technical and administrative requirements, including data encryption, access controls, audit controls, risk assessments, and signed Business Associate Agreements (BAAs) with service providers. While Google Drive offers robust security features, it's important to understand its compliance status before using it to store or transmit PHI.

HIPAA Compliance Best Practices [Infographic]

HIPAA Compliance Best Practices [Infographic]
HIPAA Compliance Best Practices [Infographic]
HIPAA Compliance Best Practices [Infographic]
HIPAA Compliance Best Practices [Infographic]
HIPAA Compliance Best Practices [Infographic]
HIPAA Compliance Best Practices [Infographic]
HIPAA Compliance Best Practices [Infographic]

Is Google Drive HIPAA Compliant?

While Google Drive cloud service offers a wide range of features to protect user data from malicious access or exfiltration, its data-sharing abilities mean it is not automatically or inherently HIPAA compliant. However, Google does offer a separate service called Google Workspace for Healthcare, which is designed to meet the specific needs of healthcare organizations. This service provides additional Google Drive security and privacy measures to ensure HIPAA compliance, such as signing BAAs and implementing advanced encryption.

What is Google Workspace for Healthcare?

Google Workspace for Healthcare is a specialized offering from Google designed to meet the unique needs and compliance requirements of healthcare organizations. It provides a secure and collaborative platform for healthcare professionals to communicate, collaborate, and manage their workflows while maintaining the privacy and security of sensitive patient information.

Google Workspace for Healthcare includes a suite of productivity tools such as Gmail, Google Drive, Google Docs, Google Sheets, Google Meet, and Google Chat, with additional security and privacy features tailored to the healthcare industry. These features are designed to help healthcare organizations meet HIPAA compliance standards and protect patient health information.

Some key features and benefits of Google Workspace for Healthcare include:

  • Business Associate Agreement (BAA): Google signs a BAA with healthcare organizations using Google Workspace for Healthcare, demonstrating their commitment to protect PHI and comply with HIPAA regulations.
  • Advanced Security Controls: The platform offers Zero Trust verification, data encryption at rest and in transit, client-side encryption, phishing and malware detection, and granular access controls to ensure only authorized individuals can access sensitive data.
  • Secure Email: Gmail within Google Workspace for Healthcare provides additional security features such as Data Loss Prevention (DLP) policies and email encryption to protect sensitive information from being exfiltrated.
  • Audit Logs and Reporting: Audit logs and reporting capabilities allow organizations to track and monitor access to PHI, helping to identify and address any potential security breaches.

By using Google Workspace for Healthcare, healthcare organizations can leverage the power of Google's productivity tools while ensuring compliance with HIPAA regulations and maintaining the privacy and security of patient health information. The platform provides a comprehensive solution to address the specific needs and challenges faced by healthcare professionals in their day-to-day operations.

5 Ways Innovative Collab Email Resource Card

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What is a BAA and Why is it Necessary for HIPAA Compliance?

A Business Associate Agreement (BAA) is a contract between a covered entity such as a healthcare provider and a business associate or service provider that handles PHI. A BAA establishes the responsibilities of each party and ensures that the business associate agrees to comply with HIPAA regulations and safeguard the PHI they handle. Having a signed BAA with Google is essential if healthcare organizations want to use Google Drive or other Google services while maintaining HIPAA compliance.

How to Make Google Drive HIPAA Compliant

Without subscribing to a Google Workspace account, an organization cannot be completely HIPAA compliant when using Google Drive. However, HIPAA requires that covered entities follow information security best practices to protect PHI. As such, they have a responsibility to train employees on how to properly handle this data when using Google Drive, even with the correct safeguards and encryptions in place.

Some examples of how users can support HIPAA include:

  • Only accessing patient information as and when necessary
  • Choosing strong passwords, keeping them safe, and changing them regularly
  • Always logging off and/or locking device screens when leaving workstations
  • Reporting any security incidents or suspicious activity immediately
  • Undergoing regular training on PHI security best practices

hipaa compliance for google drive

Are Google Shared Drives HIPAA Compliant?

Google Shared Drives are similar to standard Google Drive, except they are owned by an organization instead of an individual. Roles and access permissions for all users can be established by the Drive administrators from a central admin console.

Similar to Google Drive, a Google Shared Drive is not inherently HIPAA compliant. However, with the appropriate security measures and configurations, it is possible to use Google Shared Drive in a HIPAA-compliant manner. This includes signing a BAA with Google, implementing access controls, encryption, and other necessary safeguards to protect PHI.

Are Google Docs and Sheets HIPAA Compliant?

The Google Docs and Sheets apps are not specifically designed to be HIPAA compliant. However, using Google Workspace for Healthcare and following recommended security practices can help healthcare organizations use these tools in a manner that aligns with HIPAA requirements. It is crucial to assess and mitigate any risks associated with storing or transmitting PHI using these tools. Some steps toward this include limiting access, restricting sharing abilities, and training employees on best practice for safeguarding PHI.


The smarter way to do compliance and risk mitigation in collaboration tools

Is Google Chat HIPAA Compliant?

Like with other Google products, Google Chat is not inherently HIPAA compliant, but can be used in ways that conform to HIPAA requirements. Best practice involves using a Google Workspace subscription, signing a BAA with Google, and ensuring employees understand the risks of sharing PHI within Google Chat.

Is Google Workspace Business Starter HIPAA Compliant?

Formerly known as G Suite Basic, Google Workspace Business Starter does allow business users access to features such as BAAs and advanced security and management controls. However, for the most robust range of Google features, an Enterprise plan or Google Workspace for Healthcare. These plans include additional security and compliance tools that support HIPAA requirements.

5 Tips to Proactively Protect PHI in Google Drive Cloud Platform

  1. Enable two-factor authentication for Google accounts associated with PHI.
  2. Train employees on HIPAA policies and best practices for handling PHI in Google Drive.
  3. Regularly review and update access controls to ensure that only authorized personnel can access PHI.
  4. Encrypt sensitive files and folders stored in Google Drive to provide an additional layer of security.
  5. Regularly audit and monitor access logs, and promptly address any unauthorized access or breaches.


How Aware Supports HIPAA Compliance in Google Drive

Aware helps leading healthcare organizations to maintain HIPAA compliance within Google Drive from a third-party app integration that uses advanced AI-infused analytics to identify potential violations. Using Aware, organizations can automatically protect the data they hold in Google Drive using automated workflows informed by keyword and regular expression (regex) detection.

Aware’s continuous, real-time analysis detects potential HIPAA violations as they happen for faster remediation and increased data protection, while industry-leading natural language processing (NLP) means more accurate results with fewer false positives.


While Google Drive itself is not inherently HIPAA compliant, Google offers specialized solutions, such as Google Workspace for Healthcare, to meet the specific needs of healthcare organizations. Augmenting these controls with real-time data loss prevention and compliance capabilities from Aware, healthcare organizations can safeguard PHI in Google Drive and ensure their digital workspace remains HIPAA compliant.

Learn more about Aware for Google Drive and protect all your sensitive information today.

Get Aware for Google Drive

Topics:Compliance AdherenceGoogle Drive Security