4 Reasons Why HIPAA Auditors Will Love Application Lifecycle Management

The advantages of ALM for IT compliance and audit procedures

 

HIPPA Logo

We all know that IT compliance is a top priority for most organizations. For the healthcare world and HIPAA compliance, meeting the requirements is not just a priority, it’s an absolute business imperative. Proper HIPAA practices protect your patients’ privacy and help your business avoid failed audits and potentially costly court cases and penalties. But it can feel overwhelming to manage all of the many rules and regulations to ensure that all the personal information stored, accessed or processed adheres to a very rigid set of guidelines or security rules.

The HIPAA Heat is On

If you are reading this you are mostly likely in the healthcare world or have something to do with managing healthcare related software applications. Are you aware that federal regulators are actively preparing to conduct extensive HIPAA audits in the Fall of 2015? The real question now is would you pass a HIPAA audit if it was given to you today? And it’s not just for healthcare providers. Any business that handles PHI (Protected Health Information), i.e. individually identifiable health information transmitted or maintained in any form, is required to maintain HIPAA compliance and subject to substantial monetary fines if found in violation of HIPAA rules. Up until now, the federal government has focused its enforcement actions on health plans and healthcare providers. This is changing and the Department of Health and Human Services’ (HHS) Office of Civil Rights (OCR) may soon be knocking on your door.

HIPAA and IT

HIPAA compliance involves many pieces – the HIPAA Privacy Rule, HIPAA Security Rule, HIPAA Enforcement Rule, HIPAA Breach Notification Rule. For the purpose of this article, we’re going to focus on the Privacy and Security side of things that most involves the IT development side of the business.

In the digital age, most medical records are housed electronically. These records live in corporate data centers or the cloud and are accessed through hosted or home-grown applications. No matter how you look at it, IT is involved. With sprawling multi-platform infrastructures, ever-changing applications, the flood of mobile and social, and the variety of development methods – the stressful reality is that many IT organizations aren’t dealing with HIPAA in the right way already and the IT team is getting left with trying to cobble together a HIPAA strategy in a vacuum. If you don’t have the right systems in place you are in Trouble (with a capital T). You don’t want to get into a situation where sensitive data is left insecure or compromised or the wrong people have access to it. You also don’t want a situation where you are diverting precious staff time to damage control initiatives or having to produce an audit trail on what health information has been touched, by who and in what capacity.

Fortunately there is an easy answer – Application Lifecycle Management (ALM) –  and it will impact the business side of the house as well. For HIPAA, ALM technology provides teams with structured, repeatable, and traceable processes to help you adhere to HIPAA standards and pass your audits. And the most important thing? Auditors love it.

Below we’ve outlined the 4 biggest reasons why auditors love ALM.

1.) Audit Hub. You can establish and embed all your HIPAA security rules and processes straight into your ALM system.

Creating and maintaining the documentation of approved compliance processes can be some of the most difficult and unrewarding of HIPAA compliance tasks. Because maintenance can be painful, documentation of the approved process is often created and never touched again—except during audits. Using an ALM system to implement a compliance solution allows an organization to encapsulate the HIPAA processes within the system. Since you update the process by changing the system settings, those processes are always easily viewable. Process documentation can be generated right from the system. The documentation and the processes are never out of sync because a change to the process automatically changes the documentation. When the auditors arrive, they can view exactly what process is currently being used. They can also see the history of changes to the process.

2.) Set it and Forget it. ALM Automates the HIPAA rules through workflows and processes.

Once you have all those HIPAA standard processes embedded in your system, the next improvement to make is automating them all! The right ALM system will automate and enforce all your IT-related HIPAA processes. With simple point-and-click procedures, you will be able to define a portfolio of processes that meet your specific HIPAA requirements. For example, only authorize certain staff to see a particular application, record, or field when certain criteria have been met, e.g., level of authority, or passcode protected. Or require specific individuals to approve moves of changes to test or to production. Simply set it and forget it. Once these processes are in place, the ALM system will automate the workflows. When the auditors see that you have workflow and approval automation in place, they can check several boxes off their list knowing you are already in accordance.

3.) Safe and Sound. ALM provides a secure, visible repository of all application artifacts where healthcare information may be stored.            

All valuable patient data and intellectual property should be stored and secured within a repository to prevent loss and unauthorized access. Since software applications are accessing that data on a regular basis, changes to those applications must be carefully controlled. It is critical for stakeholders to have visibility to what is happening within the change process. The right ALM system will put your entire IT and business teams on an automated process-driven system. There will be a centralized repository of information where people can view the flow of all application artifacts through the entire lifecycle process. The ALM system will allow you to assign authority levels regarding who can access that information, what parts of an application need to have access to that information, who touches the code, who approves changes, what the impact of a change will be, etc. The ALM system puts in place security infrastructure to automatically to enforce your HIPAA application development requirements.

Auditors love to see this type of structured, logical system as part of the HIPAA processes. You will get an A on this section.

4.) Auditor’s dream. ALM has HIPAA reports built-in.

Metrics, dashboards and reporting just may be the biggest reason you want an ALM system to help with your HIPAA requirements.  If you choose the right ALM system it will actually come with pre-configured HIPAA reporting templates to fulfill specific auditing needs – not to mention reports for your potential other compliance needs from general SLA reports, to ITIL to Sarbanes-Oxley to BASEL II. The reports are also role-based so whether you are on the business side, operations, or IT, you can produce and display the information in a way that makes sense for your piece of the audit and/or business. It’s also smart to work with your auditors to determine exactly what information they need to see and when they need it. Because at this point you have a centralized repository of information and you have structured repeatable processes (see reasons 1 -3!), you can pre-define reports and queries for the auditors. These can simply be scheduled to run at the appropriate time or can be executed on demand. Management can check compliance on an ongoing basis via dashboards or other customizable reports. This is an audit-time dream.

Knock on the Door

If you haven’t considered an application lifecycle management solution before now, it’s about time, before that knock on the door comes this fall. The HIPAA compliance audit is one you do not want to fail.

For more information, visit our ALM & DevOps solutions page.

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Daniel Magid is Managing Director of Rocket Software’s Application Lifecycle Management & DevOps lab, and is a recognized authority on helping leading organizations achieve compliance through ALM solutions and DevOps best practices. He has written a variety of articles for leading IT publications and is a regular speaker at technology conferences.

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