HITRUST vs HIPAA: Compliance for Healthcare Organizations

October 2, 2023

HIPAA and HITRUST are two frameworks that are commonly used in the healthcare industry so it is understandable why they are compared so often. However, there are various differences. 

What is HIPAA?   

HIPAA, the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act, is a set of rules created back in 1996 to keep people’s medical info private. If you handle patient data, you have got to follow HIPAA or else you’ll be breaking the law! Here are the major things you got to do:

  • Protecting Patient Privacy: This involves only sharing someone’s health data with their permission or for treatment.
  • Ensuring Security: Use physical, technical, and administrative safeguards – like training your staff, locking up your facilities, and using robust encryption, ensuring you keep that data super safe. 
  • Allowing Patients Access: This means ensuring that patients have the right to view, amend, and obtain copies of their medical records.
  • Controlling Disclosures: Be stingy with who you share patient info with and when. Only give out the bare minimum necessary for the job. 

Following HIPAA shows your patients you’re serious about keeping their health information safe and it helps you avoid getting slapped with some big ol’ fines. HIPAA compliance is also monitored and enforced by the Office for Civil Rights (OCR), adding another layer of oversight. It’s not that hard to do when you start instilling a HIPAA-conscious culture within your organization. But here’s the deal – there’s no official certificate, as you don’t get a pat on the back for following the law. 

In a nutshell, the road to HIPAA includes a risk assessment, implementing the right safeguards, training your crew and keeping up with the rules. Then you’ll be on enroute to being HIPAA compliant. Remember, everyone in the healthcare biz has to get on board with this. If you don’t, you could end up with some serious fines and maybe even some criminal charges. Unfortunately, there aren’t any official audits to make sure everyone’s following the rules (unless there’s some suspicion of a breach). So, it’s up to you to do the right thing and keep your HIPAA game strong.

Overcoming Key Challenges and the Era of Automation


What is HITRUST?

What’s the deal with HITRUST? HITRUST, which came to life in 2007, is all about protecting sensitive data. It stands for Health Information Trust Alliance and they’ve come up with a risk-based framework to help healthcare organizations follow the rules of HIPAA, as well as other frameworks like ISO, PCI, and NIST. Their CSF certification is like the gold standard in the industry, giving a thorough and flexible way to handle security risks. 

Basically, HITRUST is a super framework that keeps sensitive info safe in the healthcare world (and beyond). During the evaluation process, there are a ton of statements to deal with. These statements assess various aspects of security and privacy to ensure comprehensive protection. But don’t worry, not all of them apply to every organization. These statements are benchmarks that your company needs to meet in order to pass the evaluation. HITRUST is often a requirement from certain clients because it shows that you’re serious about security and privacy. Also, HITRUST certification involves continuous monitoring and improvement, making it a dynamic framework in contrast to the static nature of HIPAA.

Getting HITRUST certified is no joke. First, you do a self-assessment called the CSF Validated assessment. Then, a third-party audit is done to make sure you’re following the framework correctly. This certification lasts for two years. 

HITRUST is a big deal because technology has made information spread like wildfire. It’s hard for organizations to keep up with all the changes in security and privacy. That’s where HITRUST comes in handy as a compliance and risk management program. 

HITRUST is a valuable certification because it’s given by an unbiased third party, taking a good look at your security practices and giving you the thumbs up. But, it’s worth mentioning that getting HITRUST certified can be a pricey endeavor. 

While HITRUST is mostly about healthcare, it can be sometimes used in other industries that deal with sensitive data too. It’s flexible and can be adjusted to fit your company’s needs. 

What is The Difference Between HIPAA and HITRUST?

HIPAA does not expand on any other frameworks.HITRUST has developed a framework that expands upon the principles of HIPAA. 
HIPAA was specifically designed for organizations in the healthcare industry and does not have various ways to adapt the framework.HITRUST possesses the capability to integrate various frameworks, including HIPAA, within a unified structure. By consolidating these frameworks, HITRUST offers organizations a comprehensive approach to managing data security and privacy.
If a company in the healthcare industry did not adhere to the HIPAA standards, they will incur fines or penalties. Unlike HIPAA, HITRUST does not impose penalties on organizations. This absence of enforcement provides organizations with the freedom to voluntarily adopt HITRUST without the apprehension of punitive measures.
HIPAA is a self-certification. No third-party is used to make an assessment. When comparing the audit requirements of HIPAA and the HITRUST Common Security Framework (CSF) process, it becomes evident that HITRUST demands a greater investment of effort. The HITRUST CSF process is lengthier and more detailed, requiring organizations to thoroughly assess and address various aspects of data security and privacy.


As mentioned, the thing with HIPAA is that it is a self-audit, so basically anyone can claim to be compliant with it. Shockingly, not all healthcare providers follow all the HIPAA standards, which puts personal health information (PHI) at risk.

But fear not, because here comes HITRUST to save the day! HITRUST is a third-party certification that verifies if an organization truly follows the highest data security standards. When you see an organization proudly displaying the HITRUST certified badge, you can rest assured that they’ve undergone an official audit, verifying their security practices. 

Now, when it comes to audits, the Office of Civil Rights (OCR) occasionally checks up on HIPAA-covered entities and business associates, but the chances of any specific organization being selected are pretty slim unless complaints have been filed. This is why self-regulation and internal compliance measures are crucial for HIPAA-covered entities. So, if you want to make sure a potential business partner is HIPAA compliant, the responsibility falls on you to do your due diligence. 

On the flip side, HITRUST requires a thorough audit every second year to maintain certification, along with a smaller interim audit in the alternate years.


Costs of HIPAA vs. HITRUST

Costs matter, right? Well, when it comes to HIPAA vs. HITRUST, there are some important differences to consider. 

With HIPAA, the big expenses come from implementing all the necessary administrative, physical and technical safeguards. You’ve got staff training, policy development, encryption, access controls and audit trails, all of which require time and money. But hey, once you’ve got these in place, the ongoing costs are usually limited. 

HITRUST, on the other hand, has higher upfront costs because of its more extensive control requirements and independent validation. The HITRUST assessment process has to be done by a HITRUST CSF Assessor, who charges service fees for the initial assessment and any necessary fixes. However, the good news is that HITRUST certification lasts for two years, so you won’t be paying for assessments as frequently. 

Let’s take a look at some key cost factors to consider:

  • Staff Resources – HITRUST often requires more time for education, documentation, and addressing gaps. That means more costs in terms of staff hours and possibly even hiring an in-house expert. 
  • Technology Upgrades – HITRUST specifies more detailed technical controls, which might mean investing in new security tools and systems. So, get ready for some capital costs. 
  • Assessor and Certification Fees – These are unique to the HITRUST framework. The fees charged by HITRUST and their licensed assessors can start at around $30,000 for the initial assessment, and they go up based on the size and complexity of your organization. 
  • Penalties – If you get caught violating the rules, the costs to resolve these issues and get re-certified will be much higher. For HIPAA, the penalties can be substantial, ranging from minor fines to significant legal consequences depending on the severity of the violation. And don’t forget that failing to comply with HIPAA can lead to civil and criminal penalties. 

Risk reduction – Yes, HITRUST may come with a higher price tag, but it also offers stronger security and privacy controls, which help reduce risks and potential costs for your organization.

In summary, both HIPAA and HITRUST require an investment of resources, but HITRUST comes with higher upfront costs due to its advanced controls and third-party validation. However, in the long run, HITRUST can provide better risk management and potentially lower costs by reducing your exposure.