Universities are increasing their reliance on third-party providers for various services, such as electronic health records, telehealth platforms, insurance billing, and mental health support. While these partnerships enhance business operations and save valuable time, they also introduce significant cybersecurity risks.

Third-party risk management (TPRM) in university healthcare and counseling is an essential topic that addresses the complexities and challenges of maintaining data security and service integrity in these critical environments.

This blog explores the best practices and strategies for an effective TPRM program, focusing on how university healthcare and counseling centers can protect sensitive data, ensure compliance with regulations, and manage potential threats to patient safety.

Automate your organization’s third-party risk management program with UpGuard Vendor Risk >

Types of data used in university healthcare and counseling

The healthcare industry uses a wide variety of sensitive data, including in university healthcare and counseling settings. This data is crucial for providing comprehensive care and support to students. It is highly sensitive and requires strong protection measures to ensure confidentiality, integrity, and availability, especially when third-party service providers are involved.

The main types of data used in healthcare and counseling settings on college campuses include:

  • Personally identifiable information (PII): Full names, phone numbers, social security numbers, student identification numbers
  • Health information: Patient data, treatment plans, prescription information, mental health records, counseling session notes
  • Insurance information: Policy numbers, provider details, claims information
  • Financial information: Billing and payment details, credit card information, bank account details
  • Communication records: Messages between students and healthcare providers that may contain protected data
  • Emergency contact information: Contact details of family members or guardians

Third-party service providers in university healthcare and counseling

University healthcare and counseling centers depend on third-party service providers to improve operational efficiency and service delivery. These partnerships allow universities to provide comprehensive, high-quality care to students. However, they also require strict third-party risk management to protect sensitive information, prevent data breaches, and maintain regulatory compliance.

Examples of third-party service providers university healthcare and counseling centers may use include:

  • Electronic health record (EHR) vendors: Companies providing EHR systems for managing patient health records electronically
  • Telehealth service providers: Platforms offering remote or cloud-based healthcare services, including virtual consultations and teletherapy sessions
  • Laboratory and pharmacy services: External labs that process medical tests and provide diagnostic results, and partnered pharmacies that dispense medications and manage prescriptions
  • Insurance and billing services: Companies handling insurance claims processing and medical billing
  • Mental health and counseling platforms: Online platforms and apps offering mental health support, counseling, and therapy services
  • Medical equipment suppliers: Vendors supplying medical devices and equipment used by healthcare organizations
  • Transportation services: Providers offering transportation for patients needing to travel to and from healthcare facilities
  • Crisis management services: Third-party services offering support during emergencies or crises, including mental health crises

These third-party providers play a crucial role in operating university healthcare and counseling services. However, their involvement also introduces potential risks that educational institutions must manage through effective third-party risk management practices.

Best practices for third-party risk management in university healthcare and counseling

Managing third-party risk is crucial for safeguarding sensitive data and ensuring the integrity of services provided by university healthcare and counseling centers. Best practices in third-party risk management provide a strategic framework for mitigating potential threats posed by external vendors and partners.

By implementing these measures, universities can proactively address vulnerabilities, maintain regulatory compliance, and protect the confidentiality, integrity, and availability of health and personal health information (PHI).

Below are best practices that security teams should include in their comprehensive TPRM process for university healthcare and counseling centers, designed to enhance data security and support the well-being and safety of a student population.

Vendor risk assessment and due diligence

Vendor risk assessment and due diligence are crucial for managing third-party risk in university healthcare and counseling centers, especially in safeguarding sensitive data. By thoroughly evaluating potential third-party providers, these institutions can identify and mitigate potential security vulnerabilities before onboarding and throughout their lifecycle.

This process involves assessing the vendor’s cybersecurity practices, information security, data protection measures, and compliance with relevant regulations such as HIPAA. Through detailed questionnaires, audits, and background checks, universities can ensure that third-party vendors maintain robust security postures and adhere to strict data protection standards.

A proactive approach helps select trustworthy partners and minimizes the risk of data breaches from high-risk vendors and unauthorized access to sensitive information, thereby preserving the integrity and confidentiality of students’ and patients’ health and personal data.

How UpGuard helps

UpGuard includes multiple tools to help assess vendors, including a vendor comparison feature that allows institutions to quickly understand which vendor best aligns with their security standards. UpGuard Vendor Risk also features a streamlined approach to vendor assessments in our all-in-one platform, which provides fast and accurate risk assessments tailored to your vendor relationships.

Customize risk assessments based on a vendor’s risk exposure to your organization, and conduct initial assessments using security ratings—or deep-dive using our library of industry-standard security questionnaires. Vendor Risk provides one place to assess, remediate, or wave vendor risks, creating an in-depth, auditable snapshot of your vendor’s security criticality.

Learn more about how UpGuard Vendor Risk streamlines vendor assessments here >

Contractual security requirements

Contractual security requirements are crucial for managing third-party risk in university healthcare and counseling centers. By including specific cybersecurity and data protection clauses in contracts, universities can ensure that third-party providers adhere to strict security standards.

These contracts clearly outline each party's responsibilities, including data handling procedures, compliance with regulations like the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act (HIPAA), and incident response protocols. Additionally, they often require regular security audits and assessments to confirm ongoing compliance.

By establishing these expectations upfront, universities can create a legal framework that holds third-party vendors accountable for protecting sensitive information, thereby significantly reducing the risk of data breaches and unauthorized access across their health systems.

How UpGuard helps

Accelerate your assessment of third-party vendor compliance by using UpGuard Vendor Risk’s powerful and flexible built-in security questionnaires. Our questionnaire library lets you get deeper insights into your vendor’s security by selecting questionnaires based on specific regulations or best practices.

Our security questionnaires make it easy to audit and check compliance across various regulations and cybersecurity frameworks, including ISO 27001, HECVAT, HIPAA, and more. UpGuard users can efficiently provide vendors with due dates and reminders to complete the questionnaire, and risks are automatically identified and surfaced based on vendor responses so you can request remediation or waivers.

Learn more about UpGuard’s security questionnaires here >

Continuous monitoring and auditing

Continuous monitoring and auditing are necessary for managing third-party risk in university healthcare and counseling centers. By implementing ongoing surveillance of third-party activities across the supply chain, universities can promptly detect and respond to suspicious behaviors or potential security breaches.

Automated tools and regular audits provide real-time insights into the security practices and data privacy of third-party providers. This proactive approach ensures that any deviations from established security protocols are quickly identified and addressed, minimizing the risk of data breaches.

Continuous monitoring also facilitates compliance with regulatory requirements and helps maintain a robust security posture. Regularly assessing third-party performance and security measures ensures that sensitive health and personal data remain protected, preserving the trust and safety of students and patients alike.

How UpGuard helps

UpGuard Vendor Risk includes instant security ratings, which help you understand your vendors’ security posture through data-driven, objective, and dynamic security ratings. Utilize our security ratings to monitor changes in a vendor’s security posture over time.

Our security ratings are generated by analyzing trusted commercial, open-source, and proprietary threat intelligence feeds and non-intrusive data collection methods. These easy-to-understand scores are updated daily and based on analyzing each vendor’s underlying domains and security posture.

Learn more about UpGuard Vendor Risk’s security ratings >

Incident response and contingency planning

Incident response and contingency planning are essential for managing third-party risk in university healthcare and counseling centers. Creating a comprehensive incident response plan involving third-party interactions ensures that all parties are ready to respond quickly and effectively during a security incident or data breach.

This plan details specific procedures and responsibilities, enabling a coordinated and timely response to minimize damage and speed up recovery. Regular drills and simulations help reinforce these protocols, ensuring university staff across service levels and third-party vendors are well-prepared for their roles during a crisis.

By maintaining a robust contingency plan, universities can promptly address vulnerabilities, reduce the impact of breaches, and maintain continuity of care and services. This proactive preparation not only protects sensitive health and personal data but also enhances overall resilience against cyber threats, creating a secure environment for students and patients.

How UpGuard helps

UpGuard Vendor Risk helps prevent security incidents and cyber attacks from happening by using automated remediation workflows, risk mitigation, and industry-leading vulnerability detection tools.

Simplify and accelerate how you request remediation of cyber risks from your third-party vendors—before they become security incidents. Our built-in workflows and remediation planners provide real-time data, progress tracking, and notifications when issues are fixed.

UpGuard Vendor Risk also lists vulnerabilities identified through information exposed in your vendor’s HTTP headers, website content, and open ports. Our free Risks and Vulnerabilities blog category focuses on specific risk findings and vulnerabilities, including how to resolve and mitigate common issues facing your organization.

Learn more about UpGuard Vendor Risk’s remediation workflows >

Take advantage of always-on vendor risk management with UpGuard

UpGuard Vendor Risk is a TPRM platform designed to automate and streamline an organization’s third-party risk management program. By leveraging technology to simplify the often complex and time-consuming task of evaluating vendor risks, UpGuard Vendor Risk helps organizations efficiently assess, monitor, and mitigate risks associated with their vendors and suppliers.

Additional Vendor Risk features include:

  • Customizable templates: UpGuard provides customizable questionnaire templates that users can tailor to meet specific industry standards, regulatory requirements, and organizational risk profiles.
  • Bulk distribution and tracking: Vendor Risk enables the distribution of questionnaires to multiple vendors simultaneously and tracks the progress of each questionnaire, sending reminders and updates as necessary.
  • Centralized vendor information: UpGuard centralizes all vendor information, including questionnaire responses, in a single platform, making it easier for organizations to access, review, and analyze vendor data.
  • Automated risk scoring: UpGuard automatically scores vendors based on their questionnaire responses and other relevant data, which helps organizations quickly assess vendor risk levels and prioritize follow-up actions.
  • Continuous monitoring: Vendor Risk monitors vendors’ cybersecurity postures and alerts users to changes or emerging vulnerabilities. Real-time visibility into vendor risks helps organizations respond swiftly to potential threats before they become incidents.
  • Compliance management: UpGuard Vendor Risk helps vendors reach regulatory compliance with relevant regulations and standards (like GDPR, HIPAA, and SOC 2), tracking vendors’ certification statuses and identifying gaps or issues that need addressing.
  • Collaborative features: Vendor Risk facilitates collaboration between internal teams and vendors, enabling seamless communication and efficiently resolving identified issues or risks.
  • Comprehensive reporting: UpGuard provides detailed reports and dashboards that offer insights into the organization’s overall vendor risk landscape, which can be used for internal risk management purposes and to demonstrate compliance to stakeholders, auditors, and regulators.

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