With health care privacy breaches making front page headlines, it’s more imperative than ever that you take the steps necessary to protect your patients’ health information. HIPAA compliance laws are a great start, but another area vulnerable to risk is third-party vendors. Hackers can take advantage of these relationships and access private data unless you take steps now to protect your practice.
Ensuring Vendor Compliance
There are numerous benefits to contracting with third-party vendors. They can help reduce costs, fulfill orders, house inventory, reduce shipping times, and expand your reach into new markets. But there is some risk in utilizing vendors, who are likely to have access to at least a portion of your data. The key to reducing this risk is to manage your vendor relationships very carefully.
The first step is to limit the data you make available to your third-party vendors to only what is absolutely necessary. Your stethoscope supplier, for instance, does not need access to personal patient data. Make sure you, or a designated member of your team, has a thorough knowledge of the data being shared with vendors. Also consider other businesses that may be partnering with your vendors. The data you share with them may also be accessible to the companies they do business with, so vigilance is key. Make sure your vendors understand what you expect from them in terms of data and privacy; this should be spelled out in a contract to ensure all parties are aware.
It’s important to make sure your vendors have their own security measures in place to protect against a data breach, as well. Think about it this way: if the vendor you work with doesn’t have tools in place to protect against a security breach involving their own data, will they really have the ability to protect yours? With cybersecurity such a hot topic these days, you need to ask yourself if this is somebody you’d even trust to work with going forward.
Finally, don’t just take in on faith that your vendor has the tools in place to protect your data. You are their client, and as such, it is up to you to ensure the policies you have laid out in your contract are being adhered to. Ultimately, it is up to you to ensure compliance. After all, if there is a data breach, your patients aren’t going to blame the company that sells you gauze in bulk – they’ll be upset with you, and that puts you at liability.
Fortunately, with careful management, you can continue to have solid relationships with your third-party vendors that prove mutually beneficial.