How to Avoid Healthcare Data Breaches While Working with Third-Party Vendors 

Posted November 14, 2023 by Michael Binder

Healthcare data breaches have severe consequences that compromise both your patients and institution. While providers have always been at risk, healthcare data breaches associated with third-party vendors are on the rise — jumping from 10% in the first half of 2019 to 21% in the first half of 2023 and affecting an average of 304,191 individuals per breach.   

Why third-party vendors? Because they have access to sensitive data. And vendors — due to regulatory complexities, the need to balance security with usability, and a lack of resources and expertise — often struggle to maintain the same level of control required to securely handle Protected Health Information (PHI).  

Healthcare organizations can avoid data breaches while working with third-party vendors by prioritizing a healthy Third-Party Risk Management (TPRM) program to manage sensitive data more effectively. 

Stay Secure with Third-Party Risk Management Programs  

Healthcare data security is a game of strategy, and TPRMs are the knights on the board. A TPRM provides essential guidance, resources, collaboration, security vetting, and compliance monitoring that enables your organization to proactively identify and reduce risk. It allows you to walk confidently into a third-party vendor relationship knowing they are ready to safely and securely handle your organization’s PHI. 

As a healthcare business associate, PHI security is our top priority. So how do we implement a TPRM to avoid cybersecurity breaches with our downstream third-party vendors?  

Security is built into every step of our third-party vendor strategy. We have policies in place for onboarding and assessment procedures. We have a plan in place to manage ongoing risks. And we always have a scrutinizing eye on the external presence. 

Build a Culture of Security 

You’re not just building a strategy — you’re building security culture, and education is key. Work with your teams to help them understand the importance of information security, data protection, and the consequences of third-party mishaps. They should be trained in vital vendor risk management and have access to established best practices for kickstarting new vendor partnerships and reporting incidents. 

Do Your Due Diligence 

Do a deep dive into the third-party vendor’s background and security practices. Before entering a relationship, it’s important to examine their security policies and compliance records and to make sense of the nuances of their compliance documents and security assessments.  

Our security team members are like digital investigators with vendors. We gain an understanding of how their data flows and how it’s stored; review penetration tests and compliance history; and scrutinize the overall security program management. 

Be Ready to Take Action in Times of Crisis 

Have an Incident Response Plan ready to act on in case of crisis. EnableComp has specific processes in place for: 

  • Identifying threats 
  • Protecting our fortress 
  • Detecting trouble 
  • Responding swiftly and recovering gracefully 

Your Incident Response Plan should be like a well-rehearsed script with playbooks that cover the most likely scenarios and response strategies.  

Sign on the Dotted Line 

Make sure vendors play by the rules with an agreement. Think of it as the legal handshake. Our Business Associate Agreement (BAA) binds our third-party vendors to follow HIPAA regulations and uphold minimum-security standards — safeguarding our PHI. 

At EnableComp, we’re addressing the challenge of third-party vendor risk management as a business associate. Interested in learning more about how we’re helping healthcare providers? Take a look at our latest E-book about maximizing reimbursement for VA and workers’ comp claims.