HIPAA to BigQuery

This page provides you with instructions on how to extract data from HIPAA and load it into Google BigQuery. (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 Google BigQuery?

Google BigQuery is a Data Warehouse designed to make SQL queries on large data sets quick and simple. By utilizing Dremel, a revolutionary Query Engine, BigQuery is able to do just that. With BigQuery, there is no time squandered by machines spinning up (and down) as you work with your high volume information. It’s sensible why this makes some say that BigQuery prioritizes Querying over Administration. In any case, it is quick, and more individuals and organizations are using it each day.

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 Google BigQuery

Google Cloud Platform offers a helpful guide you can follow to begin loading data into BigQuery. Use the bq command-line tool, and in particular the bq load command, to upload files to your datasets. The syntax is documented in the Quickstart guide for bq. You can supply the table or partition schema, or, for supported data formats, you can use schema auto-detection. Iterate through this process as many times as it takes to load all of your tables into BigQuery.

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

BigQuery 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, PostgreSQL, or Snowflake, which are RDBMSes that use similar SQL syntax, or Panoply, which works with Redshift instances. If you're interested in seeing the relevant steps for loading data into one of these platforms, check out To Redshift, To Postgres, To Snowflake, and To Panoply.

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 solve this problem automatically. With just a few clicks, Stitch starts extracting your HIPAA data via the API, structuring it in a way that is optimized for analysis, and inserting that data into your Google BigQuery data warehouse.