Failure to follow HIPAA regulations comes with significant cost: According to a government agency, the Office for Civil Rights (OCR) has issued more than $133 million in fines for HIPAA violations.
The challenge? While HIPAA sets out expectations for privacy and security, it offers little in the way of guidance to achieve compliance in these areas. HITRUST certification offers proof that organizations have taken the steps necessary to ensure the protection and privacy of personal health information (PHI).
But what is HITRUST certification, exactly? Why does it exist, who needs it and how do you earn it? Let’s dive in.
Why Does HITRUST Certification Exist?
HITRUST certification exists to help companies meet the regulatory requirements of the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act (HIPAA). Enacted in 1996, HIPAA focused on protecting and securing electronic PHI collected by both first-party providers, such as doctors’ offices and hospitals, and third parties, such as managed IT service providers or data analytics firms.
While HIPAA required companies to take “reasonable and appropriate” steps to ensure the security and privacy of patients’ health information, it didn’t provide any guidelines to meet these goals. This left organizations in a precarious position: While failure to meet HIPAA obligations came with significant fines, there was no clear path for achieving these objectives.
To help navigate HIPAA requirements, the Health Information Trust Alliance was formed in 2007. Now simply branded HITRUST, the organization focused on the creation of a common security framework (CSF) designed to help organizations ensure HIPAA compliance. HITRUST certification demonstrates that companies have implemented policies and processes that align with the alliance’s CSF and in turn meet HIPAA obligations.
Who Needs HITRUST Certification?
While HITRUST compliance is not mandated under HIPAA, many organizations that collect, store or handle PHI choose to obtain HITRUST certification. In some cases, first-party covered entities, such as healthcare providers or health insurance companies, will require third-party business associates, such as IT service providers, to obtain and maintain HITRUST certification.
What Are the Benefits of HITRUST Certification?
Ensuring HITRUST compliance by earning this certification offers several benefits, including:
- Standardization — Using HITRUST’s 19 CST control categories — including endpoint protection, wireless protection, password management and access control — businesses can standardize their security and privacy processes to streamline HIPAA compliance.
- Scalability — HITRUST best practices are scalable with your organization. Regular assessment of policies and processes against HITRUST CSF categories can highlight ways for businesses to scale security operations such that they meet evolving demand.
- Security — Along with the security of data, businesses are also secure in the knowledge that HITRUST compliance significantly reduces the risk of a HIPAA rule breach, in turn helping them avoid costly penalties or fines.
How Does HITRUST Relate to HIPAA?
To help achieve the standardization of electronic PHI data handling, two key HIPAA rules were created: The Privacy Rule and the Security Rule.
The Privacy Rule, also called the Standards for Privacy of Individually Identifiable Information, sets out national guidelines for the protection of PHI. The Security Rule, also known as the Security Standards for the Protection of Electronic Protected Health Information, created a set of national security standards to protect stored or transmitted health data.
The challenge? In both cases, these rules require companies to take reasonable and appropriate actions to secure and defend data — but there’s no clear indication of what constitutes “reasonable and appropriate.” The HITRUST CSF helps companies create and implement security processes that meet HIPAA expectations for both reasonable and appropriate measures.
How Can Companies Earn HITRUST Certification?
Earning HITRUST certification is a three-step process.
First, organizations conduct an internal self-assessment of operations based on the HITRUST framework. This assessment allows companies to identify where current policies meet HITRUST expectations and where improvements are needed. Once key issues have been addressed, businesses can move on to step two.
The second step of meeting HITRUST certification requirements means bringing in a HITRUST-certified CSF auditor to conduct an on-site audit and ensure that practices and policies in place meet HITRUST expectations around technology implementations, risk evaluations and incident response. This audit may take between two and four months — if successful, your business will receive a CSF-validated report.
Once steps one and two are complete, your company sends all relevant data and reports to HITRUST. This information is then validated by the HITRUST Alliance, and a final audit is conducted. If CSF standards are met, you will receive HITRUST certification.
Worth noting? This is a yearly process, meaning all three steps must be repeated annually. While initial certification comes with significant time and resource investment, earning subsequent certification is often smoother because policies and practices are already in place.
Maximize Privacy and Security With MXOtech
Under HIPAA, covered entities that collect and use PHI are not only required to meet security and privacy standards, but also ensure that any third parties they use to manage or analyze this data also meet HIPAA requirements.
In practice, this means that if a third party fails to meet HIPAA obligations, the covered entity they’re partnered with is also considered responsible for non-compliance.
With MXOtech, your healthcare data is in good hands. As a HITRUST CSF-certified provider, you get the peace of mind that our dedicated hosting infrastructure meets the evolving regulatory expectations of the healthcare industry, in turn letting you make best use of healthcare data to achieve business objectives. Our local help desk team is here to offer support.
Don’t take risks with regulatory compliance — get confidence in PHI protection with MXOtech. Let’s talk.