Compliance and Security: A Match Made in HIPAA Heaven


Peanut butter and jelly, macaroni and cheese, rock and roll – there’s really no mistaking that some things are just better in pairs. While these might be the obvious examples to tag along with the old 80’s hit “It Takes Two to Make a Thing Go Right”  there’s another dynamic duo that plays an important role in your practices’ daily operations: Compliance and Security. 

Compliance and security go hand-in-hand, making the perfect team when it comes to protecting patient data. But falling into the trap of thinking that achieving one means meeting the other can mean double trouble for your practice – so it’s important to understand the differences between the two and how to ensure you’re checking both off your list. 

What is compliance?

Compliance is kind of like the bread and butter of your practice. It essentially focuses on the regulatory requirements involved in the protection of sensitive patient data – meaning that you not only have a secure technical environment but also have the know-how and documentation to prove it. Compliance is a comprehensive set of standards that practices must meet to avoid fines but should be viewed as more of a baseline when it comes to security, not the end all be all. Complying with HIPAA means meeting various requirements outlined in the HIPAA Security and Privacy Rule – but there’s more to the story when it comes to ensuring that patient data is fully protected. 

What is security? 

Security is the whole system of policies, processes, and technical controls specific to your practice. The goal of security is to ensure the best possible protection of the confidentiality, integrity, and availability of patient data – which in the age of technology means constantly updating to mitigate the risk of ever-changing threats. When we think of security we often think of locks on practice doors and passwords on computers but those safeguards only brush the surface of true security.  Having the proper technical safeguards in place, and staying up to date on any new threats, such as the recent threat to Microsoft Exchange vulnerabilities knowing how to properly mitigate a potential threat, and staying educated are just some ways to meet your practice’s security needs.  

So, what’s the difference? 

While both are crucial in protecting patient data, security and compliance are not one and the same. The key distinction between the two is that compliance requirements are a bit more predictable whereas security standards are rapidly evolving with current risks and threats. This, unfortunately, means that even if you check off each of the compliance requirement boxes doesn’t exactly mean that your practice is 100% secure –  which is why you are still at risk for a cyberattack even if you have a complete HIPAA compliance program in place. 

Why you need both! 

Just like Batman and Robin, when you put the two forces together – they’re pretty unstoppable. And with cyberattackers playing the role of the modern-day villain, establishing strong compliance AND security programs are the best, and perhaps the only way to ensure you’re taking every measure to protect patient data. 

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