September 8, 2022
HIPAA vs. ISO 27001: What’s the difference?
4 Min Read
With the rising number of risks in the information security space, a standardized approach is critical in protecting an organization’s operations. Two foundational frameworks for data protection and security are HIPAA and ISO 27001.
HIPAA is a US legislation that regulates the use of all protected health information transmitted by healthcare organizations. ISO, on the other hand, is the leading international standard for information security.
While HIPAA and ISO both deal with securing sensitive information, they cover different jurisdictions and scopes. Compliance in one framework does not equal compliance in the other framework.
In this article, we compare HIPAA compliance vs. ISO 27001 certification, and what organizations can gain from meeting both standards.
What is HIPAA?
The Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act of 1996 (HIPAA) is a law in the US that oversees the privacy and security of protected health information (PHI). It also prohibits healthcare organizations from disclosing any information without the individual’s consent.
Examples of PHI are patient names, billing information, medical results, phone records, and any other personally identifiable information.
HIPAA compliance is required of any organization that electronically transmits health information, also known as a covered entity. Covered entities include:
- Health plans: Includes health insurance companies, company health plans, etc.
- Healthcare clearinghouses: Any entity that processes nonstandard health information received from another entity into a standard format
- Healthcare providers: Includes doctors, dentists, clinics, pharmacies, etc.
The importance of HIPAA compliance
Covered entities are required to perform periodic technical and nontechnical evaluations to prove HIPAA compliance. While there is no official certification body and no HIPAA certification, the legislation is enforced by the US Department of Health and Human Services’ Office for Civil Rights (OCR). Any violations or failure to comply will result in financial penalties.
What is ISO 27001?
The International Organization for Standardization (ISO) is responsible for publishing international standards that regulate a range of wide-scale activities.
The ISO 27001 or ISO/IEC 27001 was created in partnership with the International Electrotechnical Commission (IEC) specifically to manage information security. It documents requirements for establishing, implementing, maintaining, and continually improving an organization’s information security management system (ISMS).
ISO defines information security as exhibiting:
- Confidentiality: Information is made available only to authorized users
- Integrity: Information is accurate and complete
- Availability: Authorized users have access to information when needed
The importance of ISO 27001
ISO 27001 is one of the most widely recognized global security standards.
While ISO 27001 certification is optional, any organization that wants to formalize and improve its protection of sensitive data information can benefit from adhering to the standard. Some organizations may further require its service providers or third-party contractors to attain certification before engaging in a business contract.
The ISO 27001 certification process is comprised of two major stages:
Stage 1: An informal preliminary review of your ISMS
An external auditor will look over an organization’s ISMS and verify its InfoSec policies against ISO 27001 requirements, statement of applicability (SoA), and risk treatment plans (RTP).
Stage 2: A formal compliance audit
Auditors will revisit an organization’s policies and test all ISMS controls listed in the SoA against ISO 27001 requirements. They will also collect evidence to verify whether the management system is appropriately designed and implemented.
Organizations that pass the second stage will receive their ISO 27001 certification, which remains valid for three years. During this time, organizations must complete annual surveillance audits every year and then a recertification audit at the end of the third year.
Differences between HIPAA vs. ISO 27001
HIPAA and ISO 27001 are vastly different policies used to maintain privacy and security in their respective jurisdictions. HIPAA is a US law that protects sensitive patient information collected by healthcare organizations, while ISO 27001 is an international standard for information security management. HIPAA and ISO 27001 protect some of the same data, but compliance with one does not mean compliance with both.
Similarities between HIPAA vs. ISO 27001
HIPAA and ISO 27001 are complementary InfoSec frameworks that function well together. Complying with both standards forms an undeniably strong security posture and establishes greater trust in the organization.
ISO 27001 consists of 93 security controls, several of which overlap with HIPAA requirements. For example, both frameworks include security awareness training and physical security monitoring as recommended safeguards. While the language used by each framework differs, the resulting actions are the same.
Ultimately, it’s not a question of HIPAA vs. ISO 27001. HIPAA is part of the overall security posture covered by ISO 27001. On the other hand, ISO 27001 certification sets a strong foundation to implement the necessary HIPAA rules.