All covered entities must comply with HIPAA or face fines of up to $50,000 for every violation. However, with such high cybersecurity standards and insufficient implementation guidance, it's not surprising that HIPAA violations are common occurrences.

To overcome the challenges of adhering to HIPAA’s stringent safeguards, covered entities are turning to HIPAA compliance software for support. Such software can be an invaluable aid to the healthcare industry, but only if it includes the proper set of features,

If you’re in the market for a solution to help you meet HIPAA requirements, this post outlines the top features to help you align with the compliance requirements of the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act.

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What is HIPAA Compliance Software?

HIPAA compliance software is a tool that helps covered entities and their business associates maintain alignment with the security standards of HIPAA. At a high level, this software helps healthcare organizations meet the ultimate objective of the HIPAA regulation, which is to defend protected health information (PHI), patient data, and healthcare data from unauthorized access. in other words, HIPAA compliance software helps service providers increase their data breach resilience.

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Difference Between HIPAA Compliance Software and HIPAA-Compliant Software

HIPAA compliance software helps covered entities align their security measures to HIPAA standards and streamlines HIPAA compliance workflows.

HIPAA-compliant software, on the other hand, is either a mobile device app, cloud service solution, or any digital tool that’s protected with all of the privacy and security safeguards necessary to meet the requirements of HIPAA.

HIPAA compliance software helps covered entities align their cybersecurity practices against HIPAA’s standards. HIPAA-compliant software is a digital product that meets the security standards of HIPAA.

Is HIPAA Compliance Software Necessary?

With digital transformation continuously expanding healthcare attack surfaces, automation technology is becoming necessary to keep up with the increasing scope of security risks impacting electronic Protected Health Information (ePHI). According to the Office for Civil Rights (OCR), almost 10% of covered entities have suffered HIPAA violations due to insufficient technical assistance, and to date, over $135 million in violation fines have been issued.

Data always tells the most compelling stories, and according to the data, covered entities don’t have the technical support to pass HIPAA audits - not surprising given the healthcare industry’s pragmatic approach to innovation. To disrupt this concerning trend, healthcare entities should start embracing technology impacting HIPAA compliance directly - with security measures protecting Electronic Health Records (EHR) and sensitive data, and indirectly - by streamlining workflows influencing regulatory compliance.

Never underestimate the impact of associated cybersecurity programs influencing data security and data protection strategies, such as attack surface management, risk management, risk assessments, and cyber risk remediation. The collective influence of these initiatives on medical record security could lift your baseline of HIPAA compliance, reducing the resource demands of a HIPAA compliance product.

Top 3 Features of the Best HIPAA Compliance Products

Most software solutions primarily support compliance with the HIPAA security rule since its requirements are more technical. Because the HIPAA privacy rule aims to prevent unauthorized disclosures of PHI (personal health information), compliance with many of its requirements are addressed with improved internal staff training resources - an outcome that doesn’t require the same level of cybersecurity expertise as a security rule compliance strategy.

An example of a HIPAA privacy rule violation is a healthcare provider employee messaging sensitive data about a patient to a relative without the patient’s authorization.

Learn more about the HIPAA privacy rule >

As such, most of the highlighted features and capabilities in this list map to the requirements of the HIPAA security rule, with a focus on addressing the top frustrations impeding compliance with its standards, which are:

  • Lack of guidance on how security measures should be implemented - HIPPA doesn’t explain how to comply with its standards, it just lists them. Without guidance on how to measure and close compliance gaps, covered entities struggle to maintain compliance.
  • Narrow Cyber Risk Detection Scope - Without mechanisms for discovering the broadest scope of common security risks in healthcare, covered entities overlook the majority of threats impacting compliance. With a myopic cyber threat detection outlook, healthcare entities overlook a region of the attack surface responsible for most data breach-related threats - the third-party vendor landscape.
  • Poor Vulnerability Management - Thorough security risk detection is the very least expectation of the HIPAA security rule. Beyond that, covered entities are expected to push detected threats through a complete vulnerability management lifecycle, which should include risk analysis. 
All of these frustrations may not be addressed with a single HIPAA compliance solution, but for the greatest cost-saving benefits, you should prioritize tools addressing as many of these pain points as possible.

1. Internal and Third-Party Cyber Risk Detection

The US Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) recognizes the significant influence third-party vendors could have on cybersecurity postures and explicitly addresses these risks in its Security Rule. HIPAA’s third-party risk management requirements aim to minimize cyber threats stemming from:

  • Healthcare clearinghouses.
  • Insurance companies
  • Health plans
  • Business Associates

Learn how to meet the third-party risk requirements of HIPAA >

An ideal HIPAA compliance product should be capable of continuously monitoring internal and third-party attack surfaces to detect emerging risks impacting HIPAA compliance efforts. But an attack surface scanning solution alone isn't enough.

For the most comprehensive cyber risk detection potential, scanning solutions, like Security Ratings, should be combined with point-in-time assessments, like security questionnaires. These two initiatives work symbiotically - security risks detect emerging risks between scheduled assessments that trigger further investigation with security questionnaires (ideally ones mapping to the standards of the HIPAA security rule).

Point-in-time assessments combined with security ratings create real-time attack surface awareness.
Point-in-time assessments combined with security ratings create real-time attack surface awareness.
HIPAA-Specific Security Questionnaires are an excellent resource for self-audits.

How UpGuard Can Help

UpGuard continuously scans internal and third-party attack surfaces for emerging risks threatening compliance with regulatory standards like HIPAA. By expanding its cyber risk detection scope to the dark web, UpGuard offers healthcare entities an additional layer of data breach protection by detecting and shutting down compromised credentials before they’re used to facilitate data breaches.

UpGuard also offers a HIPAA-specific security questionnaire that automatically identifies compliance gaps based on vendor responses. By helping security teams understand which risks should be prioritized in remediation efforts, the UpGuard platform helps covered entities realign their compliance efforts as quickly as possible, minimizing the chances of costly violations.

Compliance gap detection on the UpGuard platform.
Compliance gap detection on the UpGuard platform.

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2. Comprehensive Vulnerability Management

An ideal HIPAA-compliant product should include a complete vulnerability management program for addressing detected threats, including remediation workflows.

Ideally, a vulnerability management module should sit within a broader Vendor Risk Management lifecycle to address compliance risk stemming from the onboarding phase - like when a prospective vendor refuses to sign a Business Associate Agreement (BAA).

Streamlining the VRM process and, as a result, vulnerability management processes also has the positive effect of reducing data breach response time, which could simplify compliance with the breach notification rule.

How UpGuard Can Help

The UpGuard platform addresses the complete scope of the Vendor Risk Management lifecycle, including due diligence, risk assessments, remediation, and vulnerability management.

Watch this video for an overview of UpGuard’s compliance reporting features.

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3. Access Controls

Access controls prevent unauthorized access to sensitive patient data. This is an essential requirement of third-party vendors processing personal health information, such as billing solutions and healthcare clearinghouses. Access control features, like user authentication, offer ongoing protection against unauthorized users accessing sensitive healthcare resources.

Access control configurations can be set to only allow access to users who have sufficiently completed HIPAA privacy rule training to reduce the chances of unauthorized exposures.

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