HIPAA vs HITRUST: What’s The Difference?

hipaa hitrust

As we venture into the intricacies of data protection and regulatory compliance, two terms invariably come to the forefront: HIPAA (Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act) and HITRUST (Health Information Trust Alliance). Despite sharing a common goal, each framework has its distinct characteristics and requisites. Let’s delve deeper and unravel the differences and the intricacies.

The Essential Breakdown of HIPAA

HIPAAHIPAA passed in 1996, was a significant breakthrough in healthcare data privacy. At its core, HIPAA provides a regulatory framework ensuring the protection of sensitive patient data, termed Protected Health Information (PHI). HIPAA compliance is mandatory for any organization dealing with PHI – healthcare providers, insurance companies, and business associates.

HIPAA’s Fundamental Principles

HIPAA establishes certain critical principles:

  • Privacy Rule: Governs the use and disclosure of PHI held by “covered entities.”
  • Security Rule: Sets standards for the security of electronically protected health information (e-PHI).
  • Breach Notification Rule: Mandates covered entities and their business associates to notify patients and authorities in case of a data breach.
  • Enforcement Rule: Contains provisions relating to compliance and investigations, the imposition of civil money penalties for violations of the HIPAA Rules, and procedures for hearings.

HITRUST: The Gold Standard in Healthcare Security

HITRUSTHITRUST is a privately held organization that, in collaboration with healthcare, technology, and information security leaders, has established the CSF, a certifiable framework to mitigate risk. While not a legal requirement like HIPAA, HITRUST certification is increasingly demanded as a prerequisite by organizations in the healthcare industry.

Pillars of HITRUST CSF

HITRUST CSF stands on some fundamental pillars:

  • Harmonization: By consolidating various compliance standards, it provides a unified approach to information security.
  • Scalability: It can be customized depending on the size and nature of the organization.
  • Benchmarking: It provides tools for measurement and benchmarking compliance progress.
  • Assurance: It ensures greater assurance through a third-party assessment for certification.

HIPAA vs. HITRUST: The Core Differences

While HIPAA outlines what needs to be accomplished, HITRUST goes a step further to explain how. It brings various other regulatory requirements and security frameworks, including HIPAA, under its umbrella, providing a comprehensive solution for healthcare data security.

Interpretation and Implementation

HIPAA legislation is open to interpretation and does not provide a specific roadmap to compliance. HITRUST CSF, on the other hand, provides specific, prescriptive controls, thus providing clarity and direction to entities about the implementation of data protection measures.

Coverage and Consolidation

HIPAA focuses solely on PHI, whereas HITRUST CSF provides a more comprehensive approach, bringing together various other standards and regulations, like PCI, ISO, NIST, and GDPR. It offers a “one-size-fits-all” solution, reducing the complexity of maintaining compliance with multiple regulations.

Assurance and Trust

HITRUST CSF certification, while not a legal requirement, carries considerable weight in the healthcare industry. Being HITRUST certified gives partners, regulators, and customers more confidence in an organization’s commitment to data security and privacy.


The Health Information Trust Alliance (HITRUST) is a comprehensive security framework that encompasses numerous compliance guidelines, including those set forth by the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act (HIPAA). It streamlines the compliance process by providing a consolidated, industry-approved approach to data security in healthcare.

Being HITRUST certified does not equate to being HIPAA compliant directly. However, because HITRUST incorporates HIPAA’s Privacy and Security Rules into its Common Security Framework (CSF), it facilitates HIPAA compliance. Organizations adhering to HITRUST’s guidelines are inherently aligning with HIPAA’s requirements.

That said, HITRUST goes beyond HIPAA, providing a more robust and extensive approach to healthcare data security. Therefore, while HITRUST is not HIPAA itself, organizations that are HITRUST certified have met a more rigorous standard that includes but is not limited to, HIPAA’s regulatory requisites.

Advantages and Disadvantages of HIPAA and HITRUST

Each compliance framework, whether it’s HIPAA or HITRUST, has its own set of advantages and potential drawbacks. Understanding these can help an organization determine the best path for its specific needs.

Advantages of HIPAA

  • Legal Requirement: HIPAA compliance is mandatory for all entities handling PHI, ensuring a baseline level of data protection in the healthcare industry.
  • Broad Scope: HIPAA applies to a wide range of entities, from healthcare providers to insurers and business associates, promoting universal standards.

Disadvantages of HIPAA

  • Lack of Specificity: HIPAA provides what needs to be accomplished but doesn’t prescribe how. This lack of specificity can cause ambiguity during implementation.
  • Limited Scope: HIPAA focuses exclusively on PHI. Entities subject to other regulations, like PCI-DSS or GDPR, must manage multiple, separate compliance efforts.

Advantages of HITRUST

  • Comprehensive Framework: HITRUST CSF is an all-encompassing security framework that includes HIPAA and other regulatory guidelines, providing a one-stop solution for compliance.
  • Prescriptive Controls: HITRUST offers clear guidance on how to achieve compliance, reducing ambiguity and streamlining the implementation process.
  • Scalability: The HITRUST CSF is customizable depending on the size, type, and complexity of an organization, making it adaptable to different needs.

Disadvantages of HITRUST

  • Cost and Complexity: Achieving HITRUST certification can be expensive and time-consuming, particularly for smaller organizations.
  • Not a Legal Requirement: While HITRUST certification can boost an organization’s reputation, it’s not legally required like HIPAA, potentially making it an additional, voluntary expense.

Which One Should You Choose? HIPAA or HITRUST?

Choosing between HIPAA and HITRUST isn’t quite an either/or decision; rather, it’s about understanding the unique features, benefits, and potential limitations of each to determine the most suitable course for your organization.

HIPAA, being a legislative mandate, is non-negotiable for entities dealing with Protected Health Information (PHI). It offers broad and versatile regulations aimed at protecting patient data.

HITRUST, on the other hand, is a comprehensive and robust security framework. While not a legal requirement, it’s increasingly recognized as a gold standard in healthcare data protection.

In essence, if your organization handles PHI, HIPAA compliance is obligatory. However, if you’re seeking a comprehensive, scalable, and highly recognized certification that not only covers HIPAA but also consolidates various other regulatory standards, HITRUST might be the way to go, provided you’re prepared to invest the necessary resources.


In the realm of healthcare data protection, both HIPAA and HITRUST serve crucial roles. While HIPAA forms the legal bedrock for the protection of Protected Health Information (PHI), HITRUST CSF offers a comprehensive and certifiable solution, incorporating HIPAA and several other standards within its ambit.

HIPAA compliance is mandatory, providing a fundamental level of data protection. Whereas, HITRUST, although not a legal obligation, is widely recognized as a robust and comprehensive standard for data security in healthcare.

Choosing the appropriate framework—HIPAA, HITRUST, or both—largely depends on the specific circumstances and needs of your organization. Ensuring robust data security and regulatory compliance requires a careful evaluation of these factors, ultimately guiding the journey toward safeguarding critical healthcare data effectively and efficiently.

If you are looking to implement any of the Infosec compliance frameworks such as SOC 2 compliance, HIPAA, ISO 27001, and GDPR compliance, Impanix can help. Book a Free consultation call with our experts or email us at  [email protected] for inquiries.