Healthcare information security, HIPAA Security Risk Assessment, HIPAA Compliant

Healthcare Information Security vs. HIPAA Compliance: What’s the Difference?


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Healthcare information security and HIPAA compliance: how do they differ, and where do they overlap? There are significant differences, and ultimately, you need both to run a successful healthcare service.

Healthcare Information Security VS HIPAA Compliance: What’s the Difference?

Healthcare information security and HIPAA compliance both differ and intersect. Information security is defined as implementing technical controls to protect sensitive data. HIPAA compliance focuses on implementing technical controls that meet specific regulatory requirements, defined in the HIPAA Security Rule. There is a common misconception that you or your organization are HIPAA-compliant, you are secure, and vice versa. Below we will explain how you or your organization can be highly secure but not HIPAA compliant. Knowing the difference requires understanding the relationship between information security and HIPAA compliance.

The difference between the two is similar to being educated in healthcare and being licensed as a healthcare professional. One’s educational attainments might be significant and involve many areas of study, but attaining enough specific knowledge to pass a healthcare provider’s licensing exam is the key to practicing most forms of healthcare in the United States.

Healthcare Information Security & HIPAA Compliance Overlap

In many ways, you or your organization may set different security standards for your service delivery than those required to meet HIPAA compliance requirements. There will be many areas of overlap. For example, you may want to purchase a Virtual Private Network (VPN) to mask your location when offering digital services. When you connect to a secure VPN server, your internet traffic goes through an encrypted tunnel that outsiders cannot penetrate, including hackers, governments, and your internet service provider. While you or your organization may want to enjoy the benefits of not being geographically traceable through the Internet, VPNs are not required by HIPAA.

To get back to the analogy started above, one’s level of information security can include many bells and whistles. Still, it must meet HIPAA standards at its core to achieve HIPAA compliance. Plain and simple, covered entities subject to HIPAA must implement technical controls for information security that adequately protect health information (PHI) as per HIPAA compliance standards.

HIPAA Security Rule Safeguards

A large portion of HIPAA compliance is dependent on keeping PHI private and secure. The HIPAA Security Rule outlines the mandates required to ensure PHI’s confidentiality, integrity, and availability by implementing very specific information security measures. These safeguards must address administrative, physical, and technical areas.

  • Administrative safeguards guide healthcare organizations on the proper uses and disclosures of PHI through written policies and procedures. Policies and procedures also provide information on how your practice keeps PHI private and secure.
  • Physical safeguards include measures to secure your physical location (office). These safeguards may include installing locks, alarm systems, and security cameras.
  • Technical safeguards generally get the most attention regarding information security, as most PHI is stored in an electronic format. Technical safeguards include access controls, audit controls, integrity controls, and transmission security.

HIPAA Security Risk Assessment

HIPAA requires you to implement security measures that are “reasonably appropriate” for your services. What is appropriate for one provider or organization will not necessarily be appropriate for another. The easiest way to achieve HIPAA compliance is to conduct HIPAA security risk assessments (SRAs) regularly to compare your current healthcare information security measures to HIPAA Security Rule requirements. SRAs will also help you determine which information security practices are compliant and which are still needed.

Compliance vs. Information Security: Why You Should Worry About Both

Many information security products are available for purchase and installation, but only a specified set of information security measures are required to be HIPAA compliant. As a healthcare professional or organization, you need to focus on both to run a successful practice. When your practice lacks the proper HIPAA Security Rule safeguards, you leave your practice open to security breaches. While breaches are often difficult to control, if you are breached and can prove that you have implemented a technically “adequate” HIPAA compliance program, you most likely won’t be fined. Both information security and HIPAA compliance are necessary when you work in healthcare.

This Article is Contributed by the HIPAA Compliancy Group

Need assistance with HIPAA compliance? The Compliancy Group can help!

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