illustration of lock and binary code
by Jack Clough

Shadow IT—that is, workplace software, applications or devices that are managed outside of and without the knowledge of the company’s information technology (IT) department—has become an increasingly relevant issue in the last decade.

The reason behind its rise to infamy is the surge of easy-to-use consumer tools on the market that are valuable and have made their way into workplace environments, including in the health care industry. If left unmanaged, it poses serious data security threats and exposes organizations to potential fines and lawsuits. Alarmingly, a growing number of health care organizations are turning a blind eye to the use of Shadow IT in the workplace in order to maximize staff efficiency.

Whether allowed intentionally or not, Shadow IT creates many challenges for the homecare industry. Understanding the risks of Shadow IT within the health care space and strategies for managing this growing issue is vital for the longevity of the organizations and the well-being of the people they serve.

Risks Around Every Corner
Shadow IT is a liability to any organization or industry, but security and privacy are critical when dealing with protected health information (PHI). Health care organizations are especially vulnerable without the proper protections that an official IT department can offer because they store PHI.

Management teams may recognize that Shadow IT users exist because employees are not properly trained to understand their data security policies and the potential impacts of breaching these policies. While this isn’t untrue, the root cause of the issue is that these organizations lack the adequate tools to support their employees, which forces them to use unauthorized consumer applications. For example, many organizations use  messaging tools like iMessage, WhatsApp or text messaging to discuss patient information because their workplace has not provided them with a secure messaging tool.

If this did not sound serious enough, Shadow IT also poses other risks, including:

HIPAA Non-Compliance: While HIPAA is great for protecting patient data and privacy, it is often difficult for organizations to be certain they are compliant with its rules because of the ever-changing tech landscape. Since Shadow IT is unknown, unauthorized, and unmanaged, it is needless to say that organizations where Shadow IT is used are not HIPAA compliant.

Data Breaches: Without oversight from the IT department, Shadow IT users are putting their clients’ and patients’ data at risk for both data loss and leaks. With consumer tools commonly used in Shadow IT, a lot of the data is stored in an unencrypted state; therefore, anyone can access it. This data is also stored on the user’s device and not in a secure environment and cannot be backed up or recovered.

Controlling Shadow IT
Here are two straightforward strategies to get started on eliminating the use of Shadow IT in your organization:

1. Educate employees.
It is the organization’s responsibility to ensure employees are educated on the policies and procedures that must be followed to guarantee patient privacy, data security and HIPAA compliance. With more knowledge, staff will be more aware of the implications and be cautious about using Shadow IT.

2. Support the team.
In addition to educating employees, the organization must work alongside them to battle the challenges that have been habitually solved by Shadow IT. It is vital to proactively look for ways to support employees, providing ongoing solutions rather than roadblocks.

However, these two strategies only scratch the surface for solving Shadow IT problems. One of the most significant needs in health care, which for many is presently addressed by Shadow IT, is efficient communication within care teams.

The use of consumer messaging apps and texting are part of everyday life, so these solutions easily make their way into the care environment.

While these easy communication tools can contribute to efficient care, they will expose organizations to HIPAA violations. Therefore, it is essential that organizations introduce easy to use, secure and HIPAA-compliant tools to minimize the risk and provide secure and efficient quality patient care.

Jack Clough is chief growth officer for Celo Health, where he leads the operational, sales and marketing activities. He has held business development and sales roles at Celo and other collaborative technology companies. Visit