HIPAA to Databricks

This page provides you with instructions on how to extract data from HIPAA and load it into Delta Lake on Databricks. (If this manual process sounds onerous, check out Stitch, which can do all the heavy lifting for you in just a few clicks.)

What is HIPAA?

The Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act (HIPAA) defines rules that American organizations must follow to securely handle and maintain Protected Health Information (PHI). To remain in compliance, organizations are required to have a signed Business Associate Agreement (BAA) from any partner organization that creates, receives, maintains, or transmits PHI. The partner must ensure that it will safeguard the PHI that passes through its systems. Businesses also have to meet a long checklist of compliance rules and practices.

What is Delta Lake?

Delta Lake is an open source storage layer that sits on top of existing data lake file storage, such AWS S3, Azure Data Lake Storage, or HDFS. It uses versioned Apache Parquet files to store data, and a transaction log to keep track of commits, to provide capabilities like ACID transactions, data versioning, and audit history.

Getting HIPAA data

You migrate PHI just as you would any other data, but you must stay cognizant of HIPAA regulations. No one but you and the data source can handle the data unless you have a BAA in place with them.

You can use any methods your data provider offers to extract data from their service. Many cloud-based data sources provide APIs that expose data to programmatic retrieval. Others allow you to set up webhooks to push event data to requesters. For data that lives in a database, you can use SELECT statements or a utility that does a mass dump of the data you specify.

Loading data into Delta Lake on Databricks

To create a Delta table, you can use existing Apache Spark SQL code and change the format from parquet, csv, or json to delta. Once you have a Delta table, you can write data into it using Apache Spark's Structured Streaming API. The Delta Lake transaction log guarantees exactly-once processing, even when there are other streams or batch queries running concurrently against the table. By default, streams run in append mode, which adds new records to the table. Databricks provides quickstart documentation that explains the whole process.

Keeping HIPAA data up to date

Once you've set up your data pipeline to your HIPAA data source, you can relax – as long as nothing changes. You have to keep an eye on any modifications that your sources make to the data they deliver. You should also watch out for cases where your script doesn't recognize a new data type. And since you'll be responsible for maintaining your script, every time your users want slightly different information, you'll have to modify the script. Keep in mind that HIPAA is all about rules and compliance, so you'll also have to know what HIPAA permits and proscribes, as will anyone else who works on the script.

Other data warehouse options

Delta Lake on Databricks is great, but sometimes you need to optimize for different things when you're choosing a data warehouse. Some folks choose to go with Amazon Redshift, Google BigQuery, PostgreSQL, or Snowflake, which are RDBMSes that use similar SQL syntax, or Panoply, which works with Redshift instances. Others choose a data lake, like Amazon S3. If you're interested in seeing the relevant steps for loading data into one of these platforms, check out To Redshift, To BigQuery, To Postgres, To Snowflake, To Panoply, and To S3.

Easier and faster alternatives

If all this sounds a bit overwhelming, don’t be alarmed. If you have all the skills necessary to go through this process, chances are building and maintaining a script like this isn’t a very high-leverage use of your time.

Thankfully, products like Stitch were built to move data from HIPAA to Delta Lake on Databricks automatically. With just a few clicks, Stitch starts extracting your HIPAA data, structuring it in a way that's optimized for analysis, and inserting that data into your Delta Lake on Databricks data warehouse.