Healthcare Technology Featured Article

February 09, 2023

Why Is Application Mapping Critical for Compliance in the Health Industry?

What Is Application Mapping?

Application mapping refers to the process of creating a visual representation or diagram of the components and relationships within a software application. This can include mapping the flow of data, the relationships between different modules, the architecture of the application, and the interactions between different components. The goal of application mapping is to provide a clear understanding of the application's structure and function and to aid in development, maintenance, and troubleshooting.

Why Is Application Mapping Critical for Compliance in the Health Industry?

Application mapping is critical for compliance in the health industry because of the strict regulations and standards that must be met to protect patient data and privacy. The healthcare industry must comply with data protection regulations such as the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act (HIPAA) and the General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR) that have strict requirements for the protection and management of personal health information (PHI).

Application mapping can help healthcare organizations ensure compliance by providing a clear and comprehensive picture of the flow and management of PHI within their systems. This can help organizations identify and address potential areas of non-compliance, such as unauthorized access to PHI or inadequate security measures. By mapping out the interactions and relationships between different applications and systems, healthcare organizations can identify areas where data may be vulnerable and take steps to improve security and reduce the risk of breaches.

Additionally, application mapping can help healthcare organizations demonstrate compliance to regulators and auditors by providing a clear and transparent record of the flow of PHI within their systems. This can help organizations provide evidence that they are following all relevant regulations and standards, reducing the risk of fines and other penalties.

Types of Application Mapping Tools

Here are popular tools and techniques for application mapping:

Sweep and Poll

Sweeping is a technique that scans network devices and gathers information about their configurations and performance. Polling involves periodically polling or querying network devices for data, such as information about the devices' hardware and software, network configurations, and performance metrics. This information helps to create an up-to-date map of the network that includes the relationships between different devices and applications.

The sweep and poll technique allows for efficient and accurate collection of information about a large number of network devices, which can be useful in large and complex networks. These tools can be configured to poll the network devices at regular intervals, allowing administrators to monitor changes in the network and detect any potential issues or performance problems.

These tools can be used by network administrators to improve network visibility and monitoring, ensure the security of the network, and optimize network performance. It provides a centralized view of the network, making it easier for administrators to identify and resolve network issues quickly and efficiently.

Network Monitoring

Unlike sweep and poll tools, which periodically query network devices for information, network monitoring captures data about the network by analyzing network packets in real time. There are two ways that network monitoring can be performed:

  • Packet-level monitoring: Involves capturing individual packets of network traffic and analyzing their contents to gather information about network activity. This requires a specialized appliance to monitor the packets, but it provides a more detailed view of network traffic and can identify issues at the application layer.
  • Flow-level monitoring: Works by using the NetFlow protocol to gather information about the flow of IP traffic across the network. Routers can be configured to probe and send NetFlow records of network traffic to the monitoring tool, which collects information such as volume, path, source and destination nodes, and other IP flow attributes.

The NetFlow protocol can provide valuable information about network performance, but it has limitations in terms of the information it provides. For example, it cannot differentiate between application-level dependencies and is limited by the bandwidth requirements of the NetFlow implementation, which can impact the performance of network devices.

Agent on Server

This technique utilizes agents installed on servers to gather information about the applications and services running on those servers. The agents collect data such as performance metrics, configuration settings, and log files, and then send the information to a central mapping tool for analysis.

The advantage of using an agent-based approach is that it provides a more detailed view of the applications and services running on a server, including information about the performance of individual components and the dependencies between them. This can help identify potential issues and improve the reliability and performance of the applications.

Orchestration Application Dependency Mapping

This technique helps track the relationships between the various components of an application and the IT resources they utilize. This type of mapping is often used in conjunction with automation and orchestration platforms, which manage IT environments by combining multiple automated tasks and configurations across different app components.

With orchestration, IT can provision resources for specific IT workloads in an efficient manner using advanced software solutions. These solutions also keep track of the app components and the underlying server resources, enabling organizations to gain a comprehensive view of the relationships between different components of an application.

By combining the information obtained through orchestration with other technologies such as Application Performance Monitoring (APM), AIOps, and agent-based or agentless tools, organizations can achieve an accurate representation of their IT environment through hybrid discovery and dependency mapping.

Application Mapping in the Healthcare: Key Best Practices

Include All Systems and Applications

When creating an application map for a healthcare organization, it is important to include all relevant systems and applications that handle PHI, regardless of size or complexity. This includes both internal and external systems, as well as systems used by third-party providers. By including all relevant systems, organizations can have a comprehensive view of the flow and management of PHI, allowing them to identify areas of risk and take action to mitigate them.

Use Clear, Consistent Labels

Consistent labeling is essential to making the application map easy to understand and use. This includes using standardized naming conventions and symbols, as well as color coding, to help quickly identify the type of information being handled. Clear, consistent labels also improve communication between stakeholders, reducing confusion and facilitating collaboration.

Highlight PHI Flows

The purpose of application mapping in healthcare is to identify the flow of PHI within the system. To achieve this, it is important to highlight the flow of PHI by using different symbols, colors, or other visual cues. By doing so, organizations can quickly identify areas where PHI may be vulnerable or where security measures may need to be improved, reducing the risk of breaches and ensuring compliance with regulations.

Regularly Review and Update

Application maps are dynamic and can change over time as new systems are added or existing systems are modified. It is important to regularly review and update the application map to ensure that it remains accurate and up-to-date. Regular internal audits or external audits can help identify changes that need to be made to the map, allowing organizations to respond quickly to changes in the system.

Ensure Secure Access and Management

The application map contains sensitive information, so it is important to ensure that it is stored and managed securely, with access restricted to only those who need it. This includes using secure cloud storage, encryption, and other security measures to protect the map and the PHI it contains. By doing so, organizations can reduce the risk of breaches and ensure compliance with regulations, protecting the privacy and security of their patients' health information.


In conclusion, application mapping is critical for compliance in the health industry as it helps organizations to understand the relationships and dependencies between various systems, applications, and data flows. By mapping these relationships, organizations can ensure that sensitive information such as PHI is handled and transmitted securely, in compliance with regulations such as HIPAA.

Proper application mapping also helps organizations to identify potential risks and vulnerabilities, enabling them to take proactive measures to prevent security breaches. Key best practices for application mapping in the healthcare industry include using clear and consistent labels, highlighting PHI flows, regularly reviewing and updating the map, and ensuring secure access and management.

By implementing these best practices, organizations can strengthen their security posture and comply with industry regulations, protecting patient data and maintaining the trust of their stakeholders.

Author Bio: Gilad David Maayan

Gilad David Maayan is a technology writer who has worked with over 150 technology companies including SAP, Imperva, Samsung NEXT, NetApp and Check Point, producing technical and thought leadership content that elucidates technical solutions for developers and IT leadership. Today he heads Agile SEO, the leading marketing agency in the technology industry.


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