Guest Column | March 2, 2020

4 Ways Identity And Access Management (IAM) Solutions Can Benefit Healthcare Organizations

By Tom Mowatt, managing director, Tools4ever

Identity Access Management

Healthcare is one of the most highly regulated industries in existence because of the sensitivity of information and data that is collected. Thus, high levels of privacy and security are expected and demanded to maintain order throughout the sector.

In healthcare, an identity and access management (IAM) solution can make all the difference in an organization’s efforts to achieve just that. According to James A. Martin and John K. Waters, “[An IAM solution] can bolster regulatory compliance by providing [organizations with] the tools to implement comprehensive security, audit, and access policies.”

Implementing an identity and access management (IAM) solution can lead healthcare organizations to reduce human error, cutting down costs, and improving their security—all while optimizing their organizational efficiency.

To learn more about what exactly IAM is, click here.

Nevertheless, let's move forward to cover four of the many ways that an IAM solution can benefit your healthcare organization.

#1: Protect Patient Information

Perhaps the most straightforward benefit of IAM is the first. In healthcare, data privacy is the first and last priority. How information is protected is everything for healthcare organizations. Sensitive information that we provide to healthcare organizations is known as our Protected Health Information, which can include your name, address, phone number, driver’s license number, as well as your Social Security number.

PHI under the U.S. law is any information about health status, provision of healthcare, or payment for healthcare that is created or collected by a covered entity, linked to a specific individual.

As healthcare leaders, you are likely tasked with protecting large amounts of patient data. There are many ways to safeguard this information and protect it from unauthorized access, such as logging and auditing user activity, enforcing complex passwords, and transitioning from shared accounts to individual accounts.

You are likely performing some—if not all—of these tasks already.

As effective as these tasks are at protecting PHI, they are expensive to implement through manual means. By implementing an identity and access management solution, IT departments can optimize and automate these processes, leading to significant savings, as well as allowing the IT department to reprioritize more impactful projects within the organization.

#2: Stay Compliant

The Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act (HIPAA) requires strict regulations in protecting the privacy and security of health information (subsection 164.312). In the past five years, there has been more than $94 million in fines for organizations violating HIPAA.

Implementing an IAM solution can make it much easier for healthcare organizations to stay compliant with all regulations, not just HIPAA. By automating identity management processes, you can reduce time-consuming tasks and remove the associated risks that come with potential human error.

#3: Manage Access

Determining employee access rights can be difficult, no matter the industry. One of the most unnoticed security threats an organization can face is when an employee has accumulated too many access rights as they switch roles within the organization, referred to as "permission bloat." This is a usual consequence of being a long-term employee.

Thus, determining who has access to what is of the utmost importance. An employee who has access to a system that they shouldn't have is a security risk, and perhaps a violation of regulations. By implementing an IAM solution, your organization will be able to automate your processes to assign and withdraw privileges as needed. These changes are processed quickly across the entire network and require zero manual intervention. You can take back control of your security and ensure that employees only have access to the data and resources they need.

#4: Reduce Human Error

In 2018 alone, healthcare organizations paid $28 million in financial penalties to the Office for Civil Rights (OCR) in response to HIPAA violations. Many of these fines came from mistakes and human error. When it comes to just cloud technologies, Gartner states that at least 95 percent of cloud security failures are the customer's (i.e., the customer of the cloud provider). Human error is simply a reality for which technologies and security must account.

With an identity and access management solution in place, you can eliminate manual account and permission errors through a fully automated management solution that streamlines operations and reduces costs. Your IT department no longer must manually manage access rights to data, and your teams no longer must deal with "careless employees" or the mistakes that can result in fines for your organization.

SSO — Another Access Security Measure To Consider

Tangential to traditional IAM technologies, single sign-on (SSO) solutions provide healthcare organizations with a secure method for accessing cloud and third-party applications, data, and other resources.

SSO platforms protect access behind a single login and rely on passing security tokens instead of traditional passwords to verify a user’s identity before granting access to the connected resources.

SSO uses tokens to cut down on authentication challenges of repetitively logging in to numerous resources or keep session windows from expiring. Full Identity-as-a-Service (IDaaS) platforms also incorporate functionality beyond SSO, such as self-service resource requests.

Adding multi-factor authentication (MFA) can provide additional security steps, such as requiring PIN codes, one-time passwords, physical passkeys, and more. Even if a user's password is compromised, an intruder can't pass MFA protocols without additional verification factors.

Using an SSO solution to connect users to cloud and third-party resources mean authentication can take place anywhere, at any time, on any device—tremendously helpful to medical professionals who travel (field nurses or in-home caregivers). Instead of having to fight VPN challenges or other methods for logging and charting care, healthcare professionals can log into their systems once and gain access to all their required resources.

Healthcare organizations must implement an IAM solution, as there are far too many risks associated with the improper management of the organization's resources (error-prone access management processes, improper accumulated access, etc.).

An IAM solution provides you with precisely what you need to reduce costs and optimize organizational efficiency while helping you with its compliance efforts related to HIPAA (and other regulations).

With a proper identity and access management solution, you can:

  • Automatically manage employee access rights for application and data as the employee changes roles throughout the organization
  • Employ self-service functionality that allows employees to request access to resources, and managers can immediately approve them with zero IT intervention
  • Unburden system administrators with managing user account changes via automated processes
  • And much more.

About The Author

Tom Mowatt is managing director at Tools4ever.