Data Security and Compliance – What’s the Difference?

Data security and compliance are often confused as one and the same thing. But it’s important to understand the distinction between the two. 

Healthcare providers often focus on data compliance standards because of the negative financial impact of non-compliance. For instance, hospitals and clinics that don’t meet regulatory standards such as HIPAA, risk having to pay hefty fines. Within the first six months of this year HIPAA fines totaling over $5 million have been levied.

It’s (wrongly) assumed that health records must be secure simply because your organization is compliant, which is why data security often doesn’t get the same attention as compliance. 

In this article, find out:

  • What is the difference between data security and compliance 
  • What are the widely used data standards in the healthcare industry
  • How you can stay on the right side of compliance

Compliance: Setting the Baseline

Since healthcare organizations, like hospitals and clinics, regularly work with sensitive data, they are subject to data security and data privacy requirements. 

Compliance standards are dictated by legislation, such as HIPAA and the Sarbanes-Oxley Act. They are usually enforced by a regulatory body, such as the Office for Civil Rights (OCR) at the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services.

These laws prescribe how healthcare providers must safeguard patients’: 

  • Personal information
  • Financial data
  • Personally identifiable information

In simple terms, any organization handling or storing such data must adhere to these (and other) data compliance standards

Security: Keeping Data Secure

Protecting data, like regulatory compliance, requires organizations to have in place appropriate security measures. However, unlike data compliance standards, the focus of data security is on making sure patient information does not get compromised.

And there’s a great need to keep data secure too. Healthcare data is extremely valuable to hackers as it can be used for everything from identity fraud, filing fraudulent insurance claims, and even abusing healthcare services.


Learn more about data security in healthcare:

  1. The 3 Biggest Healthcare Data Breaches
  2. Get your security and threat assessment
  3. EHR Security Measures that Protect Your Patients’ Privacy


Difference Between Data Security and Compliance

Data Security and Compliance - What’s the Difference?

While both data security and data compliance work towards the common goal of security risk management, data security is not the same as data compliance and these terms cannot be used interchangeably. 

Meeting compliance standards can demonstrate that the organization has security measures and policies in place. However, being compliant does not guarantee that the organization is actually immune or adequately protected against cyber threats

Basically, complying with data security standards means that your organization meets the minimum standards required. 

Data Compliance Standards in the Healthcare Industry

Compliance standards specify:

  • Types of data that need to be protected
  • How it must be stored
  • How you can process the data
  • Penalties in case of violations of the standard

Some compliance standards applicable to the healthcare industry, today, are HIPAA, GDPR, SOX, CCPA and PCI DSS.

Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act 

HIPAA specifies how organizations in the U.S. that handle and process electronic health records (EHR) and electronic medical records (EMR) must keep the data safe and confidential. The Act requires that access to health records is restricted to only approved individuals.

For HIPAA compliance, a key requirement is to maintain detailed audit trails to easily identify every touchpoint that the data has within the organization. 

Adopting software that manages event logs might help meet this requirement, because every time a file is updated or accessed, the software automatically captures and records it. Strong access control and encryption protocols must be enforced to ensure exposure of sensitive data is minimized.

General Data Protection Regulation 

GDPR is a standard adopted by the European Union for businesses operating in Europe. It is also applicable to any entity that interacts with any individual in the EU. 

The main requirements of this regulation require a provider to: 

  • Ask for consent while gaining access to personally identifiable and sensitive data
  • Make sure people are able to exercise their data rights

The fines imposed for GDPR non-compliance are severe. Even minor infractions can attract fines of up to 2% of the organization’s annual income in the previous financial year.

Difference Between Data Security and Compliance

Sarbanes-Oxley Act 

SOX was set up as a check against misreporting in corporate accounting, and mandates timely and accurate financial reporting. To facilitate smooth auditing, systems must be in place to automate reporting and flags for investigating any events that warrant a closer look.  

Though, at first glance, SOX looks like a standard only for financial reporting, it affects healthcare organizations significantly. A recent survey indicates that 53% of healthcare providers spent over $2 million towards SOX compliance.

For SOX compliance, financial records, emails, chats and spreadsheets need to be maintained for at least five years in case they are required during auditing. Therefore, automating workflows and taking timely backups of data and document management systems is necessary to ensure that the auditing process proceeds without any hiccups.

California Consumer Privacy Act 

CCPA is a tough consumer protection act applicable to businesses in the US. This act defines private data for consumers in much broader terms than GDPR. Any data that can be used to construct a user profile or persona including an individual’s preferences, behavior, attitude, intelligence or aptitude is considered private data. 

Compliance is mandatory only for large businesses that generate an income of over $25 million or for businesses that handle the data for more than 50,000 customers; or generate more than 50% of their revenue by selling customers’ personal information

This compliance standard is often compared with the GDPR. Another key differentiator for CCPA is that the act also requires protecting the data of employees and non-patients in healthcare organizations. 

Due to its wide definition of customer data, complying with CCPA can be tougher than complying with GDPR. 

Payment Card Industry Data Security Standard 

PCI DSS prescribes how companies should handle cardholder data such as credit card numbers. This industry regulation mandates the safety of credit or debit card details in the organization’s possession and non-compliance may result in penalization or termination of bank and payment processor services that are necessary to accept card payments.

For PCI DSS compliance, the Payment Card Industry Security Cards Council describes in detail the 12 requirements for keeping cardholder data safe. 

The requirements range from setting up a firewall to regular testing to ensure that systems and processes are secure.

Satisfy Data Security Compliance Standards With an Experienced IT Partner

Finding your way around healthcare compliance standards and evaluating the best strategy for data security can seem like a daunting task.

Hiring the right partner can mean the difference between focusing on your healthcare organization to provide quality care and worrying about compliance fines and security breaches. 

At True North, we will help you deploy compliant healthcare security solutions that reduce the administrative burden of meeting compliance standards. 

Discuss your needs with a specialist.

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