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HITRUST vs. HIPAA

By: Jen Stone
Security Analyst
CISSP, QSA, CISA, CCSFP


What is HIPAA?

HIPAA stands for Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act. HIPAA is a US law that details–among other things–the data security and privacy provisions needed to ensure the confidentiality, integrity, and availability of protected health information (PHI). 

HIPAA helps organizations avoid data breaches, cyberattacks, and crippling ransomware–all of which can stop a healthcare organization in its tracks and prevent it from helping patients. 

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Title II of HIPAA has two sections that deal with protecting data: the Security Rule and the Privacy Rule:

  • Privacy Rule: Deals with keeping patient information private. Organizations can’t share PHI about a patient to anyone without the patient’s consent, except under certain circumstances. 

  • Security Rule: Deals with keeping PHI secure and away from hackers. Aspects of PHI like social security numbers are in high demand by criminals and are much harder to replace than credit cards. 

What is HITRUST?

HITRUST is the Health Information Trust Alliance. It was founded in 2007 to support organizations in all sectors–but especially health organizations–reach information risk management and compliance objectives. In fact, according to the HITRUST Alliance, 81% of hospitals and health systems and 83% of health plans utilize the HITRUST Certification Standard Framework (CSF).

HITRUST was created to provide an option for the healthcare sector to address information risk management using a matrix of third-party assessments. The idea is to consolidate efforts and reduce the need for multiple reports, i.e., “assess once, report many.”

HITRUST includes elements from risk management frameworks like The Payment Card Industry Data Security Standard (PCI DSS), HIPAA, NIST 800-53, NIST CsF, and ISO 27001.

The “HITRUST approach,” along with HITRUST certification, gives vendors and covered entities a way to demonstrate compliance to HIPAA requirements based on a standardized framework. The ultimate goal of HITRUST certification is for businesses to effectively manage data, information risk, and compliance. 

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The difference: HITRUST vs. HIPAA

HITRUST is a compliance framework created by a private alliance of security industry experts and includes many aspects of HIPAA Security and Privacy Rules. The HITRUST alliance seeks to provide organizations with a way to show evidence of compliance with a variety of mandated security controls. 

HIPAA is a law, which was enacted in 1996 by lawyers and lawmakers, and is enforced by the US Department of Health and Human Services (HHS). All organizations that handle PHI must comply with HIPAA. 

According to the HHS, "The HIPAA Privacy Rule requires that covered entities apply appropriate administrative, technical, and physical safeguards to protect the privacy of protected health information (PHI), in any form . . . This means that covered entities must implement reasonable safeguards to limit incidental, and avoid prohibited, uses and disclosures of PHI, including in connection with the disposal of such information."

HITRUST does not replace HIPAA, but it can provide measurable criteria and objectives for applying "appropriate administrative, technical, and physical safeguards." 

If you’re HITRUST certified, does that mean you’re HIPAA compliant?

No. HITRUST is widely accepted as a good approach for evaluating risk, but–as noted above–it does not replace HIPAA compliance or prove that an entity is HIPAA compliant.

Jen Stone is a Security Analyst for SecurityMetrics. In her 4 years of working at SecurityMetrics, she has completed over 50 security assessments that include PCI, HIPAA CIC CSC (SANS Top 20) and 23 NYCRR 500. She assisted in developing and expanding audit protocols used by other assessors in the department. Jen has extensive experience in technical product management and has been in the technical information sector for over 25 years. 

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