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HIPAA Compliance for Slack: The Complete Guide [Infographic]

by Aware

Ensuring the confidentiality of patient information by complying with HIPAA regulations is of utmost importance to healthcare providers, and that responsibility extends to digital workplace tools like Slack. In this comprehensive guide, we will explore HIPAA compliance for Slack, its challenges, and how the healthcare industry can leverage this platform while meeting their obligations to their patients as outlined by HIPAA.


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What is HIPAA?

The Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act (HIPAA) was enacted to safeguard the privacy and security of patients' healthcare information. This legislation set forth standards for the data protection of electronic health records and mandated strict rules and regulations for healthcare providers and their business associates to follow.

HIPAA compliance best practices [infographic]

hipaa compliance best practices infographic
hipaa compliance best practices infographic
hipaa compliance best practices infographic
hipaa compliance best practices infographic
hipaa compliance best practices infographic
hipaa compliance best practices infographic
hipaa compliance best practices infographic


Is Slack HIPAA compliant?

Slack is a widely used communication and collaboration cloud service that offers the functionality to streamline workflow in the healthcare sector. While Slack has robust data security features, it is not inherently HIPAA-compliant "out of the box." However, with the right safeguards and employee training, Slack can be used by healthcare providers and other covered entities in ways that comply with their obligations under HIPAA.

Will Slack sign a BAA for healthcare providers?

A Business Associate Agreement (BAA) is a crucial document that defines the responsibilities of service providers when handling healthcare data. Slack does enter into BAA agreements with users on Enterprise Grid Slack plans, meaning only these plans can support full HIPAA compliance for Slack. However, it’s important to note that Slack does not enter into BAAs with any third-party apps, so if a covered entity connects their Slack workspace to any outside applications they must separately assess if this affects their overall HIPAA compliance.

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5 Ways Slack supports healthcare providers

In addition to signing a BAA with covered entities, Slack provides a range of additional features to help healthcare providers maximize the benefits of the digital workplace without putting their patients’ data at risk.

  1. Team Collaboration: Slack channels bring together multidisciplinary teams, including doctors, nurses, and administrative staff, enabling them to collaborate effectively and share information in real time.
  2. Streamlined Workflows: Healthcare providers can integrate various applications with Slack to automate tasks, leading to improved productivity and patient care.
  3. Remote Collaboration: In an increasingly remote work environment, Slack offers healthcare professionals the ability to collaborate effectively even when not physically present in the same location.
  4. File Sharing and Documentation: Securely share medical records, images, and documents within restricted Slack channels for safe collaboration.
  5. Data Analysis: Slack's integration with data analytics tools can assist in monitoring healthcare trends, patient outcomes, and quality improvement initiatives, leading to better decision-making.

5 Risks of using Slack for healthcare

Despite the benefits offered by Slack, covered entities must also be aware of the potential risks that Slack can introduce to the digital workplace. By addressing these potential pitfalls in advance, administrators can proactively mitigate risk when using Slack for healthcare.

  1. PHI Proliferation: Without proper setup and enforcement, Slack may become a repository of protected health information that is never adequately purged.
  2. Data Breaches: Inadequate cybersecurity measures may expose sensitive data to potential cyber threats, often due to weak credentials or multi-factor authentication fatigue attacks.
  3. Data Loss and Retention: Slack allows users to delete or edit their messages at will, risking loss of critical data without adequate retention policies in place.
  4. Integration Challenges: While Slack can integrate with various healthcare software solutions, the complexity of these integrations may pose compatibility issues and hinder workflow efficiency.
  5. Third-Party Apps: Although Slack enters into BAAs with healthcare providers, they do not do so with third-party apps, presenting the risk of HIPAA non-compliance.
Slack Data Risks by the Numbers

What data risks live in Slack? We analyzed 6.6B messages to find out

How to make Slack HIPAA compliant

To comply with HIPAA while using Slack, covered entities must take certain steps to fulfill their obligations and ensure their users take steps to safeguard PHI at every step. This includes establishing HIPAA policies and routinely training employees on using Slack safely. Training should cover what information can and cannot be shared within Slack, how to use private and restricted channels to limit information visibility as appropriate, and the basics of good password practices to ensure the Slack workspace remains secure.

To support and reinforce this training, administrators should also enforce role-based access controls and two-factor authentication (2FA) to limit both workspace access and data visibility within it. Further measures can be taken to centralize data encryption using Slack Enterprise Key Management (Slack EKM). This is especially important as Slack is not end-to-end encrypted.

Healthcare companies should also invest in data loss prevention (DLP) solutions for Slack that capture a complete record of all messages—including edits and deletions—and document activity with robust audit trails.

Is Slack HITRUST certified?

HITRUST (Health Information Trust Alliance) certification, also known as HITRUST CSF, is a comprehensive framework for healthcare organizations to demonstrate their commitment to robust cybersecurity practices. This includes setting standards for safeguarding PHI and other sensitive information against a wide range of threats.

Being HITRUST certified indicates that an organization has met these standards. However, absence of certification does not mean that an organization doesn’t take the same robust care with sensitive data protection. While Slack is not currently HITRUST certified, it meets a number of other compliance standards and obligations that ensure Slack can be used within healthcare settings in HIPAA-compliant ways. Learn more about Slack compliance certifications, including SOC 2 and ISO 27001.


How Aware supports HIPAA compliance for Slack

Aware helps healthcare providers and other covered entities to improve their compliance posture in Slack to meet their obligations under HIPAA and other regulations. The Aware AI data platform connects via API and webhooks and ingests Slack messages in real time, capturing a complete record of communications, including revisions and deletions. Each message is normalized and analyzed by an intelligence data fabric to surface noncompliance as it happens. Smart workflow automations then take immediate action to mitigate the risk by tombstoning messages, notifying administrators, and coaching employees on best practices.

Using Aware, Slack admins can implement granular security controls, enforce acceptable use policies, and proactively detect instances of PHI shared anywhere within the Slack environment. That’s why leading healthcare organizations trust Aware’s risk management workflows to help them leverage Slack’s capabilities and benefits while maintaining the security and confidentiality of patient data.

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Topics:Compliance AdherenceSlack Messaging