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HIPAA Compliant Email. The Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act (HIPAA), sets the standard for protecting sensitive patient data. Any organization dealing with protected health information (PHI) must ensure that all the required physical, network, and process security measures are in place and followed.

Email in general is not secure. Most people don’t realize there really is no way to know that the person receiving the email you sent is who you intended. This is especially so in companies whose messaging system is controlled through an IT department. Oftentimes companies have an email policy in place informing employees that they should expect no privacy as it relates to using the company’s email or Internet systems. So, those people handling sensitive information, including discussing diagnoses and treatments for patients, need to be aware that general email has no guarantee of privacy.

We are summarizing here, but generally HIPAA requires three things when it comes to email:

  • Strong security: According to Section 164.314(a) of HIPAA, it is the responsibility of the health care provider to ensure that everyone involved in handling such confidential and personally-identifying information complies with the safeguards established by the HIPAA laws. Most providers meet this requirement by adding extra security around email like secure email, scanning outbound emails for sensitive data, and having a good handle on who is allowed to access email.
  • Consent:The HIPAA Omnibus Final Rule released March 18, 2013 states that clients are allowed to authorize communications via email, but to do so the client must be informed of the risks relating to sending protected health information via email before they sign the authorization. Most firms have a consent form that clients must fill out before email can be used.
  • Business Associate Agreement: Many health care providers use a third party (like Gmail, Microsoft, or their IT company) for email. These firms are referred to by HIPAA as “Business Associates.” These Business Associates are required to sign an agreement that states they will protect a patient’s confidential information with the same high standards required of the health care provider.

If you choose to use a third-party agency to encrypt emails and protect your data, here are a few HIPAA compliant recommendations:

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