If you don’t know how to send and receive HIPAA compliant email, you could be compromising your patients’ legal right to privacy. Do you know if your emails are HIPAA compliant?
Email privacy can be a major challenge for all kinds of companies. Information sent through email usually isn’t secure, because security wasn’t built in with email’s invention. Governments have faced countless issues with email security when people send secret information through email.
People working in the healthcare industry face a similar problem. Email is an incredibly easy way to communicate, and it’s all too easy to send off an email containing sensitive information without realizing it.
That’s why it’s so important to have HIPAA compliant email. You have a few options for protecting your patients’ information while still using email as a simple, fast way for employees to communicate. In this guide, we’ll break down what those options are.
Why HIPAA Compliant Email is Important
HIPAA laws exist to protect patients’ sensitive health information. People don’t want friends, family, or the general public to know the details of their health and medical records.
Patient privacy requires protection in any form, including email. However, email poses a particular challenge.
When email came on the scene, it was a new way for people to talk to each other. The delivery of the message was more important than the security. Now, of course, almost everyone sends emails, and we often hit “send” without giving the sensitive information within a second thought. This makes email a prime place for private information to get stolen.
If you don’t take steps to have HIPAA compliant email, you could be compromising patient information every time you send an email – and you’ll be in violation of HIPAA laws. Your emails fall into the category of ePHI, and all applicable rules and guidelines apply.
What is ePHI?
ePHI, or electronic protected health information, refers to the electronic forms of protected health information (PHI) covered under HIPAA laws. Emails about patients are an electronic way of sending private information and require data protection.
The kind of information covered includes Social Security numbers, names and addresses, photos, fingerprints, and other identifying information. That protection also extends to payment information and medical records.
HIPAA Compliant Email Options
Now, let’s take a look at some of the most reliable options for sending HIPAA compliant email.
HIPAA compliant email requires encryption on both the sending and receiving ends.
Encryption means the content of the message is disguised or “encrypted” so no one but the sender and intended recipient can read the information within. The recipient may be required to provide authentication to access the message.
Encryption shouldn’t just apply to a single email message. It’s also good to have all the old emails in an account encrypted, as well as the login information. Otherwise, once a hacker is in your email account, they have access to any and all information you’ve ever sent.
Luckily, there are a few services that encrypt your emails and protect your patients’ information for you.
Encrypted Email via Gmail
Gmail is one of the most popular email services, and a few years ago, they made encryption the default for all of their emails.
As long as you’re using an official Gmail app or accessing Gmail through a Chrome browser, your emails are automatically encrypted. However, if you’re not on an official Gmail app or server, you lose the security of encryption.
If you don’t completely trust this option, it’s a good idea to use a plugin or extension that will automatically encrypt your Gmail messages on any app or server. For example, you can easily send HIPAA compliant email with a browser extension like Encrypted Communication for Firefox.
Designers created Hushmail with encryption for healthcare providers in mind. This service provides encrypted, secure, HIPAA compliant email.
Even if the recipient doesn’t use Hushmail, you can still send encrypted emails to them: you just need to select the Encryption box before you send the message, and choose a secret question that the recipient must answer correctly.
Emails to other Hushmail users are automatically encrypted, but if you’re sending to a non-Hushmail user, you’ll need to remember to check the Encryption box.
It’s easy to sign up for Hushmail – you can open an account online, and receive a free two-week trial of Hushmail Premium, designed for personal use.
No matter how you choose to do it, it’s absolutely critical to send HIPAA compliant email every time you send a message as a healthcare worker.
Just one slip-up is too many. A single email can compromise sensitive patient information and have dire consequences for both you and the patient.
Fortunately, with the options listed above, it’s easy to avoid trouble and send HIPAA compliant email each time. Which method are you going to try? Leave a comment and let us know!
Featured Image CC BY 0, by StockSnap via Pixabay.