5 Best Practices for Achieving Healthcare Cloud Compliance

Healthcare data in the cloud must comply with regulations like HIPAA. Here's how healthcare organizations can ensure healthcare cloud compliance.

Christopher Tozzi, Technology analyst

July 1, 2024

4 Min Read
healthcare administrator transferring patient data via cloud computing applications

At a Glance

  • Healthcare data hosted in the cloud must adhere to regulations such as HIPAA, necessitating specific considerations.
  • Compliance practices include adopting zero trust, educating cloud engineers on compliance, and using cloud DLP tools.
  • To further ensure compliance, consider on-prem storage for sensitive data and simpler cloud architectures to minimize risks.

The cloud can be a great place to host healthcare workloads and data. But because anything related to healthcare is often subject to special compliance requirements, factoring compliance into your cloud strategy is especially important when you're dealing with healthcare data and apps.

With that need in mind, keep reading for a look at five best practices for healthcare cloud compliance.

Compliance Challenges of Healthcare Workloads in the Cloud

Most healthcare data is governed by compliance regulations, such as the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act of 1996 (HIPAA), that require data (as well as any applications that manage the data) to be managed and secured in particular ways. For that reason, taking compliance into consideration is critical when running healthcare workloads in the cloud.

It's worth noting that in general, healthcare compliance rules are not especially specific when it comes to how cloud environments need to be configured. After all, rules like those in HIPAA date to the 1990s, long before anyone was thinking about cloud computing. This means that interpreting compliance rules and figuring out how to meet them in the cloud is an exercise that falls to cloud admins and developers in many cases. There is no simple set of configuration rules to follow, or cloud services to implement, to ensure compliance.

Related:5 Best Practices for Developing a Great Healthcare App

Best Practices for Healthcare Cloud Compliance

That said, there are some clear high-level practices that you should follow to ensure cloud compliance in the context of healthcare.

1. Adopt zero trust

Zero trust is a security strategy that involves configuring resources such that they never trust each other by default. Zero trust is useful in a variety of contexts, not just those related to healthcare and compliance.

But it's especially valuable as part of a healthcare cloud compliance strategy because it helps to mitigate the risk that sensitive healthcare data will be exposed to the wrong parties. As a best practice for configuring cloud access controls, start with zero trust by default, and grant access only when and where it's specifically necessary.

2. Educate cloud engineers about compliance

Healthcare compliance laws like HIPAA are so widely known that it can be easy to assume everyone is familiar with their requirements — or can look them up easily enough.

But in reality, as noted above, compliance regulations tend to be quite ambiguous when it comes to the cloud. For that reason, investing in healthcare compliance education and training for engineers responsible for setting up and managing cloud environments is critical. Education should provide not just an understanding of how laws such as HIPAA work at a high level, but also what the organization's interpretation of HIPAA requirements is and how engineers need to apply them in the cloud.

Related:5 Key IT Certifications to Stand Out in the Healthcare Industry

3. Use cloud DLP to protect data

Cloud data loss prevention (DLP) is a type of software that can automatically detect sensitive data inside the cloud. As part of a cloud healthcare compliance strategy, DLP plays a critical role by helping teams find sensitive healthcare data that they may have accidentally stored in a location (such as an unsecured object storage bucket in a cloud service like Amazon S3) that is not compliant with healthcare regulations governing the data.

4. Consider on-prem storage options

It's wrong to think of the cloud as inherently less secure or compliant than on-prem infrastructure. When properly configured and monitored, cloud environments are just as safe as on-prem alternatives.

Nonetheless, on-prem environments do provide some controls, such as the ability to air-gap data, that are typically not available in public clouds. These capabilities can be beneficial when dealing with sensitive healthcare data that you are not likely to have to access frequently — which may be the case if, for example, a compliance rule requires you to retain archived healthcare records for a set period of time.

5. Simplify your cloud architecture

There is much to be said about the benefits of multicloud and hybrid cloud architectures. But when it comes to meeting healthcare compliance mandates in the cloud, simpler is often better — and the simplest type of cloud architecture is one oriented around a single cloud.

There's no reason why you can't implement a more complex cloud strategy to support healthcare workloads if you want. But if your security and compliance capabilities are limited, consider sticking with a simpler cloud architecture to reduce your risks.


It's certainly possible to take full advantage of the cloud for hosting healthcare applications or data. But you'll need to take extra precautions to ensure healthcare cloud compliance — such as making zero trust a priority across your cloud environment, investing in DLP tools to protect sensitive data, and preferring simplicity over complexity to reduce cloud compliance risks.

About the Author(s)

Christopher Tozzi

Technology analyst, Fixate.IO

Christopher Tozzi is a technology analyst with subject matter expertise in cloud computing, application development, open source software, virtualization, containers and more. He also lectures at a major university in the Albany, New York, area. His book, “For Fun and Profit: A History of the Free and Open Source Software Revolution,” was published by MIT Press.

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