Cloud Compliance Guide for Healthcare: Key Steps

Healthcare organizations are aggressively adopting cloud platforms for enhanced data security, cost efficiency, scale, and access to transformative technologies. The cloud enables major progress toward connected, intelligence-driven healthcare with better patient experiences. However, maintaining strict regulatory compliance and data integrity when handling extremely sensitive patient information remains of paramount importance.

This comprehensive guide examines the most pertinent security and compliance considerations around cloud adoption in healthcare settings. It outlines proactive measures IT leaders can implement to ensure protected health data stays private while unleashing game-changing cloud advancements. Following this cloud compliance roadmap unlocks a technology foundation that both safeguards medical information and propels improved patient treatments.

Why Healthcare Favors Cloud Environments

image representing howHealthcare Favors Cloud Environments

Several factors are driving the healthcare industry’s pivot to the cloud:

Cost Efficiency

Cloud-based computing generates significant cost reductions by lowering physical data center and hardware expenses while introducing economies of scale. Consolidating into an integrated cloud platform also eliminates costs of maintaining disparate point solutions.

Easy Scalability

Cloud platforms allow seamless expansion to accommodate spikes in demand and storage requirements without upfront investments required. This elasticity provides flexibility to launch and test new use cases.

Innovation Access

Cutting-edge technologies like machine learning algorithms parsing clinical notes, virtual reality-guided robotic surgical systems, and blockchain-secured patient information exchange networks are now accessible without full ownership.

Enhanced Data Security

Leading enterprise cloud providers implement automated security updates, managed threat detection, intelligent anomaly alerts, advanced identity management, and highly redundant storage systems providing security well beyond the capability of most healthcare IT departments.

Relevant Regulatory Compliance Laws

However, along with the advantageous new capabilities of cloud computing, pertinent healthcare regulatory burdens persist around strict patient health data privacy and security rules:

  • HIPAA – Sets national standards for confidentiality, integrity and authorized access controls governing protected health information (PHI).
  • HITECH – Expands HIPAA directives specifically around required breach notification processes and implementing security safeguards to protect electronic health records. Failure to comply risks steep fines.
  • State Regulations – Healthcare entities must also comply with various individual state statutory privacy and cybersecurity regulations concerning use of medical data, including heightened patient consent requirements.

Key Cloud Security Risks

While transitioning to cloud platforms introduces positive transformations, it also opens potential security gaps malicious actors could exploit to compromise incredibly sensitive patient data:

More Potential Entry Points

Interconnected cloud systems and services significantly expand possible attack surfaces vulnerable to exploits like credential stuffing, phishing scams, or denial of service attacks.

Account Hijacking

Compromised employee credentials provide backdoor system access. Cloud vendors and clients both need stringent identity and access controls like multi-factor authentication.

Visibility Gaps

The lack of insight into how cloud vendors access, manage, share and protect uploaded data can undermine security posture. Contracts should ensure transparency into data handling policies and access logs.

Constructing Compliant Cloud Environments

Healthcare security architects can tap the cloud’s immense potential while satisfying compliance obligations through governance best practices ensuring security and accountability:

Define Access Policies

Create least-privilege access policies restricting employee access to confidential data to only essential personnel, exclusively through defined roles aligned to job duties. Mandate strong access authentication.

Enable End-to-End Encryption

Implement multifaceted encryption securing networks, databases, applications/APIs, servers and data stores. Sensitive data stays protected throughout the cloud pipeline.

Demand Ongoing Audits

Require vendors complete routine independent audits examining the effectiveness of internal security controls, data handling procedures, and access policies while rectifying any identified gaps.

Conduct Incident Response Exercises

Orchestrate incident response scenarios with cloud providers examining forensic data gathering, scoping data risk, notifying contacts per protocol, providing updates and documenting the exercise.

Maintain Detailed Cloud Security Roadmap

Document a dynamic cloud cybersecurity roadmap codifying policies, controls, audits, authorization procedures, vendor assessments, and executive oversight to fulfill compliance obligations.

Unlocking Improved Patient Outcomes

Healthcare providers that take prudent steps to guarantee compliant cloud data security unlock technology capabilities delivering measurable patient care improvements:

Holistic Care Coordination

Cloud-based health information exchanges securely share updated patient treatment summaries with primary doctors, specialists, home health providers, pharmacists and even designated family members.

Streamlined Diagnoses & Treatment

The instant exchange of imaging scans, test results and medical histories across diverse systems delivers complete patient context to inform rapid expert diagnoses and prompt treatment.

Optimized Care Decisions

Predictive analytics fueled by aggregated cloud data sets reveal new personalized treatment insights and options aligned to relevant factors like condition, family histories, biomarkers and genomic profiles.

Conclusion

The cloud paradigm shift brings overdue connectivity, efficiency and innovation to healthcare delivery. But given strict compliance rules around using sensitive medical information, data protections and accessibility controls must remain foremost priorities when selecting and configuring cloud environments.

Fortunately, by proactively applying security best practices around auditing, access governance, end-to-end encryption, supply chain controls, and business associate agreements, healthcare IT leaders can enable cloud advancements while ensuring full regulatory compliance and complete patient health data integrity.

FAQs

Does the cloud really improve healthcare data security?

Yes. Leading enterprise cloud platforms offer robust security capabilities like automated patching/updates, advanced persistent threat protection, anomaly detection, and 24/7 security operations centers that surpass safeguards healthcare organizations can implement alone.

How can we migrate complex legacy systems to the cloud?

Follow a phased approach. First, inventory all existing interfaces, supporting services and data flows mapped to legacy systems. Next, work with cloud vendor to re-architect applications, APIs and databases for the cloud, reuse components when possible. Then, use available tooling to migrate datasets to cloud data stores. Finally, once integrated and tested, retire legacy systems.

Can cloud applications meet healthcare performance needs?

Yes. Leading cloud providers deliver high-availability architectures spanning geographically redundant data centers that remove single points of failure. This prevents performance lags and achieves 99.99% or greater uptime for hospital systems.

How do you maintain HIPAA compliance with cloud vendors?

Mandate all cloud vendors contractually sign Business Associate Agreements legally compelling them to implement safeguards securing protected health information as stringently as covered healthcare entities under strict penalty of law for non-compliance. Routinely audit vendors.

What training helps personnel secure the cloud?

Require all personnel complete role-based training on fundamentals securing cloud environments including managing identities and access, enabling data protection, securing system architecture, detective controls and incident response procedures. Reinforce training with simulations demonstrating real-world cloud attacks.

Hitesh Patel
Hitesh Patel
Hitesh Patel is an engineer turned business owner of WPG Consulting. He is a techie enthusiast who believes in finding creative IT solutions to solve consumer problems.

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