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If you’re planning to use an online scheduling tool such as ZocDoc, avoid potential HIPAA disasters by ensuring the vendors understand their patient privacy responsibilities.

Online appointment services for patients have gained in popularity with 27% of family doctors using patient portals or “online services” for scheduling appointments in 2013, up from 6% in 2005, according to the American Academy of Family Physicians (AAFP). But you need to protect your practice by having the vendor sign a business associate agreement (BAA) to confirm their HIPAA responsibilities, per the 2013 HIPAA “mega-rule,” experts tell Part B News (PBN 9/2/13).

“Furnishing patient scheduling services under contract with the medical provider would typically create a business associate relationship and therefore require a business associate agreement,” says Rick Hindmand, attorney with McDonald Hopkins in Chicago. He adds that while some may argue that the scheduling service is working for the patient, rather than the provider, that seems to be “a risky approach.”

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