A Quick Guide to HITRUST Compliance
Nov 20, 2023
For healthcare companies, obtaining certification from HITRUST (Health Information Trust Alliance) isn’t just about ticking a compliance box—it’s a commitment to establishing a robust standard for data protection.
According to a HIMSS survey, a significant 81% of US hospitals and health systems, along with 83% of health plans, have chosen HITRUST as their primary framework to showcase compliance and ensure data security. This widespread adoption of this standard solidifies HITRUST as the leading control framework in the healthcare industry.
Healthcare is one of the prime targets for cyberattacks because of the vast amount of sensitive data healthcare holds. Recognizing this, the HITRUST Alliance introduced the CSF (Common Security Control Framework). This framework empowers healthcare providers and covered entities, enabling them to not only fortify their cybersecurity defenses but also acquire a formal certification affirming their commitment to data security.
This blog aims to simplify and highlight the critical importance of HITRUST compliance in the healthcare landscape.
What is HITRUST?
Health Information Trust Alliance (HITRUST) is a non-profit organization that aims to elevate data protection standards and certification programs. Their goal is to assist organizations in securing sensitive information, effectively managing information risk, and achieving compliance objectives.
What sets HITRUST apart from other compliance frameworks is its unique approach to combining many authoritative sources, including HIPAA, SOC 2, NIST, and ISO 27001, harmonizing them into a comprehensive framework.
HITRUST CSF certification is not just a framework, it encompasses an assessment platform and an independent assurance program offering a unified and effective path for organizations to ensure the safety of sensitive information. Though the government does not enforce it, it has been widely adopted across healthcare and acts as the gold standard for healthcare in data security.
What is HIPAA compliance?
HITRUST compliance is the detailed process organizations undertake to meet the strict standards set by HITRUST and, by extension, protect sensitive health information.
To achieve HITRUST compliance, organizations should complete a certification process developed by the HITRUST Alliance. This process ensures the security of sensitive information and showcases compliance.
The certification details specifications covering aspects of data security, such as assessing risks, managing access controls, developing policies, integrating security controls, risk management, endpoint protection, training, and awareness programs.
Importance of HITRUST compliance
HITRUST is a pivotal cybersecurity standard that delivers a comprehensive, flexible, and adaptive approach to safeguarding sensitive data. Diverging from frameworks that target specific regulations, HITRUST CSF goes beyond isolated regulations, providing a holistic approach to healthcare data protection. To add to this,
here are a few benefits of HITRUST compliance.
Strengthens cyber defense: In healthcare, where data breaches are especially damaging, a HITRUST certification can ensure organizations have robust safeguards in place against cyber threats. It acts as a shield, protecting organizations from legal pitfalls and penalties that can damage the company’s reputation.
Trust assurance: With HITRUST compliance, organizations assure stakeholders, especially patients, that their data is safe. This assurance becomes a cornerstone in maintaining and building trust and dependable partnerships within the healthcare ecosystem.
Ensures data protection: HITRUST isn’t just about guidelines, it involves placing safeguards that protect patient data. A HITRUST assessment ensures that the security measures align with HITRUST standards, assuring patients, regulators, and stakeholders that cybersecurity is a top priority.
Enhances risk management: The HITRUST framework includes a robust risk assessment process, helping organizations pinpoint security risks and vulnerabilities. This allows businesses to allocate resources effectively and make informed decisions to fortify their systems and data.
Legal diligence: HITRUST CSF helps to ensure quality risk management, aligns with various regulatory requirements, and helps prepare companies for compliance across a wide variety of guidelines they’re legally required to uphold.
Streamlined Operations: With a robust HITRUST compliance framework, organizations can proactively improve security operations and streamline the process of building an information risk management program.
Who needs HITRUST compliance?
HITRUST’s inclusive approach emphasizes creating a culture of responsibility and security around sensitive health information across the entire healthcare industry. While there are no strict federal mandates, the impact of HITRUST certification has rippled through the healthcare landscape. HITRUST compliance is not exclusive to large healthcare providers. Any organization that handles health information, regardless of its size or role in the healthcare ecosystem, can benefit from and should consider HITRUST compliance.
Essentially, any company dealing with Protected Health Information (PHI) falls under the purview of HITRUST compliance. This spans doctors’ offices, hospitals, and pharmacies to insurance firms, healthcare vendors, and beyond. Although HITRUST certification is primarily associated with the healthcare industry, its advantages extend across diverse sectors, giving a competitive edge to data security and showcasing the dedication to compliance standards.
HITRUST compliance requirements
The HITRUST framework has controls grouped into a number of categories. Each control category includes implementation requirements that help organizations implement technical controls and meet technical objectives.
HITRUST has three progressive implementation tiers for each requirement: Levels 1, 2, and 3. Level 1 establishes the foundational minimum requirements, while Level 2 builds upon Level 1 with additional criteria. Level 3 encompasses all prerequisites from Levels 1 and 2, alongside further specified requirements.
These distinct levels depend on risk factors, the regulatory landscape, available resources, and the nature of the HITRUST assessment. Moreover, HITRUST allows organizations to incorporate industry-specific or cooperative sharing agreements and other pertinent regulatory factors into their assessments.
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How to implement HITRUST compliance
HITRUST compliance is a strategic journey that involves careful planning and execution. Depending on your organization’s size and complexity, it can take up to 18 months to get HITRUST certified.
Here’s a step-wise guide on how to implement HITRUST compliance:
Step 1: Assess and define scope: Thoroughly assess your existing security measures, risk management processes, and overall data protection practices. After assessing, clearly outline the scope of your HITRUST compliance efforts. Determine which systems, processes, and personnel will be included. This step is crucial for a targeted and effective implementation.
Step 2: Understand HITRUST requirements: Familiarize yourself with the HITRUST Common Security Framework (CSF). Understand the specific security requirements and controls relevant to your organization. This will guide your implementation efforts.
Step 3: Conduct a readiness assessment: Fill out a questionnaire that details your organization’s size, risk exposure, and other relevant factors. Your responses will guide the identification of necessary controls, requirements, and their respective levels that need implementation.
Step 4: Develop corrective activities: Obtain the MyCSF tool from HITRUST for conducting risk assessments and managing corrective action plans. Utilizing this tool can optimize resource allocation, boost efficiency, improve reporting and dashboards, simplify assessment modeling, and facilitate the sharing of assessment information. Subscription levels are available to suit various organizational needs.
Step 5: Develop policies and procedures: Based on HITRUST requirements, create and document policies and procedures tailored to your organization. This step involves defining how to address risk management, control requirements, data protection, and other critical aspects.
Step 6: Implement security controls: Implement the security controls outlined in the HITRUST CSF. This may involve technology solutions, process adjustments, and training programs. Ensure that controls are effectively integrated into your daily operations.
Step 7: Data protection measures: Implement measures to protect sensitive data. This includes encryption, access controls, and secure transmission protocols. Ensure that data protection measures align with HITRUST standards.
Step 8: Validation and assessment: Opt for an external audit conducted by a third-party auditor licensed by the HITRUST Alliance. The validation process commences by scrutinizing the data from your self-assessment, leading to a thorough examination of your security processes and controls.
After assessment, present the assessor’s work to HITRUST for a thorough examination, providing any requested evidence.
Step 9: Attain your HITRUST certification. Upon thorough assessment, if your score meets the stipulated benchmarks, HITRUST will issue the certification. In case of an unsatisfactory score, you’ll receive a detailed letter outlining the reasons for the assessment outcome, along with a corrective action plan. This provides an avenue for issue resolution and the option for a subsequent attempt.
Step 10: Training and updates: Educate your employees about the importance of HITRUST compliance and their roles in maintaining it. Training programs enhance awareness and ensure everyone contributes to a secure environment. Stay informed about updates to the HITRUST framework and make necessary adaptations.
Step 11: Continuous monitoring: Establish mechanisms for constantly monitoring your security controls. Regularly assess and review your security posture to promptly identify and address emerging threats or vulnerabilities and evolve accordingly.
HITRUST compliance is not a one-time project but an ongoing commitment to maintaining the best security practices and enhancing the highest data protection standards in the dynamic healthcare landscape.
How much does it cost to implement HITRUST?
The readiness assessment allows you to estimate the cost specific to the organization’s unique risks and helps the organization budget appropriately for the entire HITRUST certification process. The organization’s risk profile and findings of the readiness evaluation by the assessor influence the cost of implementing the standard. Also, aspects like the complexity of IT systems, infrastructure, and the volume of data impact the risk level and total cost.
The estimated cost for an organization to become HITRUST-certified falls between $40,000 and $150,000.
Challenges of HITRUST Compliance
Navigating HITRUST compliance poses unique challenges despite its manifold benefits to the healthcare sector. Here are a few challenges you might face while getting HITRUST compliance:
Resource intensive: Achieving and maintaining HITRUST compliance demands significant time and resources. The complete documentation process can be time-consuming, especially for organizations with limited staff and budget constraints.
Evolving changes: Adapting to the evolving HITRUST framework and cybersecurity landscape can be challenging and often requires ongoing efforts to stay updated on the latest standards and best practices.
Complex implementation: Implementing HITRUST compliance involves a strategic and multifaceted approach that includes activities such as risk assessments, policy development, and integration of security controls. Such complexity can pose challenges for organizations with limited expertise in information security.
Dependency on third-party assessors: Organizations need to rely on third-party assessor firms for the certification process. Any delays or issues with assessors can impact the overall timeline for achieving compliance.
Experience the Sprinto advantage: Sprinto’s compliance automation solution automates compliance tasks and enables faster evidence collection to help you get HITRUST certified in record time.
To summarize, HITRUST emerges not merely as regulatory compliance but as a beacon guiding healthcare organizations towards elevated data security standards and regulatory adherence. Beyond a checklist, HITRUST safeguards sensitive health information, building stakeholder trust and fostering a resilient cybersecurity posture.
Sprinto ensures you streamline your compliance tasks and expedite your HITRUST certification process. The platform allows you to intuitively map common controls with other frameworks like HIPAA, so you don’t have to start from scratch. Compliance teams aren’t just better prepared but are able to ensure continual compliance.
Is HITRUST only for healthcare?
No HITRUST is not only for healthcare. Though the certifiable framework was initially created to ensure data security in the healthcare industry, today, it has expanded to embrace security standards in all domains.
What is the difference between HIPAA and HITRUST?
The primary difference between the two regulatory standards is HIPAA is a US law that governs the healthcare industry requirements for protecting PHI, while HITRUST is a global risk and security management framework that covers many HIPAA-mandated Security Controls. Hence, getting HITRUST-certified will make it easy for you to comply with HIPAA.
What is the purpose of HITRUST?
The purpose of HITRUST is to help organizations safeguard sensitive data, manage information risks, and achieve compliance by following all regulatory requirements effectively.
Gowsika is an avid reader and storyteller who untangles the knotty world of compliance and cybersecurity with a dash of charming wit! While she’s not decoding cryptic compliance jargon, she’s oceanside, melody in ears, pondering life’s big (and small) questions. Your guide through cyber jungles, with a serene soul and a sharp pen!
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