Is Your Email HIPAA Compliant?

March 5th, 2015
Is Your Email HIPAA Compliant?

A risk assessment isn’t enough to ensure cybersecurity or HIPAA compliance.

When utilizing email for the transmission of medical or mental health information to authorized parties, it is imperative to ensure that the data is well-protected. Email, as a communication tool, inherently carries security risks which need to be carefully managed.

The Risks of Using Email as a Communication Tool

Unauthorized Interception: Email messages may be intercepted during their transit to recipients. This interception can occur due to inadequate encryption or other security flaws, exposing sensitive information to unauthorized entities.

Delivery Errors: There is the risk of emails being sent to or received by unintended recipients. This could be due to human error, such as mistyping an email address, or system errors within the email infrastructure.

Inappropriate Access in Storage: Stored emails containing sensitive information can be accessed inappropriately if not properly secured. This could be due to insufficient password protections, lack of encryption, or vulnerabilities within the email server.

These risks are acknowledged and addressed in the technical safeguards section of the Security Rule, which provides guidelines to ensure that electronic protected health information (ePHI) is adequately protected while in transit and in storage.

For offices utilizing email to communicate sensitive information, it's crucial to verify the compliance of their email systems. Many common free email services, such as those provided by Yahoo, AOL, or other free providers, may not meet the stringent requirements needed to protect medical data under laws such as HIPAA. Using such services can result in non-compliance with regulatory standards, potentially leading to serious data breaches and legal consequences.

If there are any uncertainties about whether your current email system meets these important compliance standards, it's advisable to consult with a HIPAA compliance expert. They can review your email setup, identify any potential security weaknesses, and recommend appropriate measures to ensure your email communications are compliant and secure. This might include transitioning to a more secure, encrypted email service specifically designed to handle ePHI, or implementing additional security measures like two-factor authentication and secure email gateways.

For a thorough review and consultation on secure and compliant email practices, it is recommended to seek professional guidance. The team at AGJ can provide tailored advice and solutions to meet the specific needs of your practice, ensuring that you maintain the integrity and confidentiality of your communications.