HIPAA to Snowflake

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

Snowflake is a cloud-based data warehouse service that runs on Amazon Web Services using EC2 and S3 instances. Snowflake is designed to be fast, flexible, and easy to work with. For instance, for query processing, Snowflake creates virtual warehouses that run on separate compute clusters, so querying one virtual warehouse doesn't slow down the others.

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.

Preparing data for Snowflake

Depending on your data structures, you may need to prepare your data before loading. Check the supported data types for Snowflake and make sure that your data maps neatly to them.

Note that you won't need to define a schema in advance when loading JSON or XML data into Snowflake.

Loading data into Snowflake

Turn to Snowflake's Data Loading Overview for help with the task of loading your data. If you're not loading a lot of data, you might be able to use Snowflake's data loading wizard, but its limitations make it unsuitable as a reliable ETL solution for some use cases. As an alternative, you can:

  • Use the PUT command to stage files.
  • Use the COPY INTO table command to load prepared data into an awaiting table.

You’ll have the option of copying from your local drive or from Amazon S3 – and Snowflake lets you make a virtual warehouse to power the insertion 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

Snowflake 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, or PostgreSQL, 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 BigQuery, To Postgres, 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 Snowflake data warehouse.