Overcoming the Top 5 Healthcare Identity Management Challenges Requires More Than SSO




The healthcare industry is in a state of flux. Increasing regulations, the shift from paper-based to digital records, and pressure to reduce costs while maintaining a high level of care has given rise to a period of change and new challenges. 

Healthcare organizations are facing the added pressure of being the key holders of sensitive patient information, the contents of which are highly valuable on the black market (50 times more more valuable than financial information, in fact). At the same time, clinicians need quick access patient information and the ability to move from patient to patient with ease. 

All of these factors beg the need for a more complete and integrated Identity and Access Management (IAM) that strengthens security, while enabling better patient care at a significantly lower cost. Today’s IAM solutions are more than just security tools or technical capabilities; they support the organization in adapting to these new business challenges and drivers.

In short, IAM solutions are essential to today’s IT infrastructure because they help healthcare organizations tackle a number of challenges that would otherwise be nearly impossible to effectively address. These challenges can be categorized into five main areas: compliance and regulations, security, organizational and financial, M&A activity, and digital transformation. 

Let’s dig into these challenges and illuminate how comprehensive IAM that goes beyond Single Sign-On (SSO) alone can help.

Compliance and Regulations

It’s no secret that healthcare is a highly monitored industry. Established regulations, such as the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act (HIPAA), newer industry-specific regulations, like Electronic Prescribing for Controlled Substances (EPCS), and state-level regulations, like the California Consumer Privacy Act (CCPA), have raised the bar for achieving regulatory compliance. 

Common requirements among these regulations include strong authentication, granular access controls to data and applications, and detailed audit capabilities. However, healthcare providers still need quick access to records in emergency situations. Therefore, well-thought-out emergency access processes that still comply with regulations are vital. A comprehensive IAM solution helps by providing a foundation for balancing these business requirements with the level of security and access control needed to comply with regulations.


Cybersecurity breaches continue to plague the healthcare industry. Phishing attacks, ransomware, and hacking incidents that target healthcare organizations consistently make headlines. Despite this, healthcare organizations are still reactive in terms of security, focusing mostly on prevention and to a smaller extent, detection. Firewalls, Intrusion Detection Systems (IDS), mostly outsourced Security Information and Event Management (SIEM), and Anti-Malware solutions are the norm. While necessary and valuable, these solutions do not protect from internal attacks or address attackers who are already in the system.

This is where IAM becomes invaluable. IAM solutions should not be viewed as a replacement for firewalls and other security systems, but rather a complement. For example, an IAM solution can deliver information on user behavior to SIEM systems. In turn, the SIEM systems leverage that information to detect anomalies and trigger alerts and counteractions. Restricting access to sensitive systems is also crucial, especially once an attacker is in the system. An IAM solution’s ability to enforce least privileged access is critical to limiting the damage an attacker can do once inside the system.

Organizational and Financial Challenges

Regulatory compliance and cybersecurity are measures that healthcare organizations must perform; however, this creates organizational and financial challenges. IAM helps address compliance and security needs, without negatively impacting organizational efficiency and productivity. While features like granular access controls increase security, Single Sign-On (SSO) capabilities streamline clinician workflows and enhance the user experience.

Healthcare’s highly variable workforce, comprised of doctors, nurses, students, patients, and other users who access systems and data, presents its own set of challenges. This number of user types is ever-growing—each with different sets of access needs and entitlements.

Limited resources—both human and financial—are another challenge healthcare organizations face. As a result, there is often a lack of ownership for IAM, and it may be viewed as a purely administrative IT tool. However, IAM capabilities go well-beyond simple account management, providing additional benefits to both users and the organization. Therefore, ownership must be clearly defined, and IAM projects need support and input from all key stakeholders within the organization.

M&A Activity

Healthcare mergers and acquisitions (M&A) are happening more frequently than ever, as healthcare providers seek to streamline operations and reduce overall costs. However, integrating two distinct and complex organizations is a highly complicated process that must be carefully executed. 

Initially, this means ensuring users from both companies have immediate access to needed systems and applications. An IAM solution makes sure that from day one, the acquired provider’s systems and users can be brought under IT control. By centralizing and automating identity management across both organizations, time-consuming manual processes that open the organization up to security risks, compliance issues, and mistakes are eliminated. IAM solutions also simplify the management and consolidation of multiple directories by eliminating the need to consolidate before automating and centralizing identity management of the acquired company’s users.

In the long-term, IAM is the key to quickly and securely enabling change at every step of the integration process. By immediately bringing the acquired company’s users and systems under IT control, full integration and consolidation can move forward in a careful, planned manner. This minimizes the risk of critical patient systems, such as Electronic Medical Records (EMRs), being disrupted during the integration process. 

Digital Transformation

Telemedicine, EMR, patient access to information, and the resulting need for Patient Access Management—all require thorough control over an increasing number of identities and complex access entitlements. In order to support these business processes, IAM has become a necessity. 

It’s all about providing the right level of access, at the right time, that doesn’t hinder the need for quick, efficient access to vital information in emergency situations. Meeting these needs requires more than SSO. Provisioning and deprovisioning, the ability to manage entitlements, audit and governance capabilities, and granular access controls are all necessary components of an IAM solution that supports modern healthcare IT.            

The Time for Identity and Access Management is Now

The healthcare industry is under growing pressure to adapt to changing business models, technology innovation, and evolving compliance needs. With these challenges comes an ever-increasing need to protect access to sensitive data and assets.

IAM, and more specifically an IAM solution that goes well-beyond SSO capabilities, is essential to addressing these challenges, while also providing secure access to all types of applications and data. Simply put, healthcare organizations that want to evolve with these new business drivers must make comprehensive IAM a cornerstone of their IT infrastructure.

To learn more about the need for comprehensive IAM in healthcare and why SSO alone is no longer enough, and how identity and access management can help, read the KuppingerCole special report: IAM in Healthcare: It’s Time to Act.

How is your healthcare organization tackling compliance, cybersecurity, and the Digital Transformation? Download this whitepaper to learn how to address these industry-specific challenges


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