Simplified Healthcare Compliance and Risk Management with Prisma Cloud

Reduce compliance costs, empower scale, and gain assurance you are protecting sensitive workloads by using the comprehensive HIPAA/HITRUST compliance controls offered by Prisma Cloud.

4 min. read

You may think you know HIPAA, the U.S. law designed to protect certain types of healthcare information. Yet the fact is that, although HIPAA has been on the books for more than two decades, HIPAA compliance remains poorly understood – especially within modern, cloud-based environments, which no one could even conceive of at the time HIPAA was written. Cybersecurity has become paramount to ensure patient data is secure and healthcare requirements are met by healthcare organizations.

Indeed, even organizations that manage to meet basic HIPAA compliance regulations in the cloud don’t always do so in the most efficient and comprehensive manner. It’s one thing to achieve HIPAA compliance; it’s another to do it in a way that is fully automated, scalable and comprehensive.

That’s why we’ve prepared this article as a guide to excelling at HIPAA and healthcare compliance in the cloud. Keep reading for an explanation of what HIPAA means, how the HIPAA rules apply in the cloud, and how to reduce your compliance costs, maximize scalability, and gain assurance that you are protecting sensitive workloads in healthcare as effectively as possible. We’ll also explain how HITRUST, a related standard, fits into the picture.

What Is HIPAA?

The U.S. Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act, or HIPAA, is an American federal law passed in 1996 to protect what HIPAA defines as Personal Health Information, or PHI. The goal of HIPAA is to create and enforce national standards for organizations of all types to follow when working with PHI.

That said, most of HIPAA’s requirements are relatively broad and generic. HIPAA doesn’t specify how to manage PHI as much as it establishes requirements organizations must meet – such as preventing unauthorized access to PHI. For the most part, HIPAA leaves it up to organizations to determine exactly how to meet those requirements.

HIPAA Compliance in the Cloud

Given that HIPAA was written in the mid-1990s, and the first public clouds did not appear until the mid-2000s, HIPAA was not at all designed with modern, cloud-centric IT environments in mind. Indeed, HIPAA wasn’t even written to protect digitized PHI specifically; it applies to any type of protected healthcare data, whether it is paper-based or electronic.

As a result, it can be particularly difficult to translate HIPAA’s high-level requirements to specific operational procedures within cloud environments. That’s especially true for businesses that use multiple clouds or hybrid clouds, which add yet more complexity to the challenge of interpreting and meeting HIPAA compliance requirements.

It is important to note as well that public cloud providers do not fully guarantee workloads running in their environments are HIPAA-compliant. Instead, they use a shared responsibility model. Under this model, the cloud service provider, or CSP, ensures the underlying cloud infrastructure complies with HIPAA. But it is up to the cloud customer to ensure any data or applications the customer deploys to the cloud are managed in ways that meet HIPAA rules.  


Fortunately, businesses struggling to figure out how to implement HIPAA compliance in the cloud are not totally on their own. HITRUST, an organization established in 2007, provides more specific guidance than HIPAA itself on meeting HIPAA requirements, especially in the context of digitized, software-based environments.

HITRUST does this primarily through its Common Security Framework, or CSF. The CSF establishes approximately 150 security controls organizations should have in place within their environments in order to help meet HIPAA requirements.

In addition to developing the CSF framework, HITRUST offers a CSF certification that allows businesses to attest to their CSF compliance.

HIPAA itself doesn’t require businesses to achieve HITRUST CSF compliance or certification; in other words, as far as the U.S. federal government is concerned, you don’t need to demonstrate CSF compliance in order to meet HIPAA requirements. However, voluntarily becoming CSF-certified is one step toward ensuring you have implemented the specific procedures and configurations necessary to meet HIPAA rules within cloud environments.

Beyond HITRUST: Best Practices for HIPAA Compliance in the Cloud

HITRUST CSF is a great starting point for bridging the gap between HIPAA’s generic requirements and actual practices. But even if your business is already CSF-certified, there is likely more you can do to increase the efficiency, scalability and reliability of your HIPAA cloud compliance strategy.

Treat Cloud Compliance as an Ongoing Process

Compliance is not a terminal state. It’s an ongoing process – especially in highly dynamic cloud environments.

This means that one-off or periodic audits don’t suffice for ensuring HIPAA compliance in the cloud. Even HITRUST CSF certification is of limited value if it is based on an assessment of your cloud at a single point in time.

To minimize your risk of HIPAA compliance issues, you must implement continuous compliance monitoring and auditing. Continuous monitoring and auditing means the ability to detect potential HIPAA compliance violations as soon as they emerge. For example, if an IAM policy changes or cloud firewall rules are modified in a way that exposes PHI to unauthorized access, you’ll want to know about it right away rather than waiting for your next periodic compliance audit.

Make Compliance Reporting Accessible

It’s easy to fall into the trap of treating cloud compliance reporting as something that exists only for the benefit of regulators, who may want to see the reports to ensure you are complying with laws like HIPAA.

Compliance reporting serves that purpose. But equally important is the ability of your own team to access and understand compliance evidence. To do this, you must provide your team with easily accessible, automated reporting that avoids manual, ad hoc and follow-up compliance work. It should be as easy as possible for your team to identify and evaluate compliance risks as soon as they are discovered.

Design Compliance Operations for Scale

Even if you only use one cloud or a handful of cloud services today, your environment may evolve in the future to include multiple clouds or additional services.

Don’t let your compliance needs become barriers to scaling up your cloud. Choose compliance tools that let you automate compliance for laws like HIPAA across any and all cloud environments and configurations.

Leverage Out-of-the-Box Compliance Controls

The fastest and most efficient way to implement HIPAA compliance within a cloud environment is to deploy compliance monitoring and auditing tools that come with built-in HIPAA compliance controls. In other words, the tools are designed to identify and enforce HIPAA compliance requirements in cloud environments out-of-the-box without requiring engineers to write and deploy compliance controls themselves.

In addition to saving engineering effort, built-in compliance controls help to ensure cloud portability because they can be deployed on any major public cloud rather than requiring teams to customize compliance controls for each cloud they use.

HIPAA Cloud Compliance with Prisma Cloud

Prisma Cloud offers all of the essential HIPAA cloud compliance features described above. With continuous compliance monitoring and auditing, Prisma Cloud alerts you immediately to potential compliance issues within your cloud environment, whether you use a single cloud, multicloud, or hybrid cloud.

Prisma Cloud also features built-in compliance controls to support HIPAA and dozens of other compliance frameworks, ensuring you can operationalize whichever compliance rules you need to meet. At the same time, easily accessible and readable compliance reporting data means your team can quickly view and understand compliance information.

These native automations and efficiencies allow businesses not just to achieve HIPAA compliance in the cloud, but to achieve it as effectively as possible. Indeed, Forrester Consulting found that businesses using Prisma Cloud benefit from a 90% reduction in the time it takes to conduct compliance reporting and a 64% lower total audit time.

See for yourself how Prisma Cloud can simplify your HIPAA compliance operations by requesting a trial.