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Hipaa Compliant Email

by stacy

How to Make Your Email HIPAA Compliant

Many healthcare organizations want to be able to send protected health information via emails. But how can you ensure your email is HIPAA compliant? What are the steps required to send electronic PHI (ePHI), via email, to patients and other healthcare organizations?

How to make your email HIPAA compliant

It will depend on the way you intend to use an email with an API. It may not be necessary for your email to be HIPAA-compliant if you only send emails internally.

It is not necessary to encrypt emails if your email network is behind firewalls. Only emails that are sent outside your firewall require encryption. Access controls are necessary to access email accounts. This is to ensure that authorized personnel has access to accounts that contain ePHI.

You will need to ensure that your email is HIPAA compliant if you wish to send ePHI via email.

Many email service providers offer encrypted email services, but not all of them are HIPAA compliant. There are several things you should consider to make your email HIPAA compliant.

Encrypt your email using end-to-end encryption

Although email is an easy and quick way to communicate electronically it is not always secure. Even services that encrypt the messages during transit might not be HIPAA compliant. End-to-end encryption is required to make email HIPAA compliant. This encrypts both stored and transit messages. Access controls are used for ensuring that only the intended recipient can view the messages.

Email service providers may require that individual emails be encrypted using a button or portal. It is easy to forget to enable encryption and send unencrypted emails. This will decrease the chance of human error.

It is important to choose the type of encryption. Data Encryption Standard (DES), was once considered secure. NIST can guide the best encryption standards. AES 128, 192, or 256-bit encryption are the recommended options.

It is highly recommended that HIPAA-covered organizations, particularly smaller healthcare providers, use a third-party HIPAA-compliant email service provider.

To ensure you receive the best service, research potential HIPAA-compliant email service providers. Google will give you a list of potential service providers.

HIPAA-compliant agreement between your email provider and business associates

Before you send ePHI to a third-party provider of email, you need to obtain a business associate agreement. The agreement outlines the responsibilities and specifies the technical, administrative, and physical safeguards that will be used to protect the integrity, confidentiality, and availability of ePHI.

You should not choose an email service provider that is unwilling to sign a business associate agreement. Many email service providers are willing to sign a BA to allow them to work alongside HIPAA-covered entities as well as their business associates.

Make sure your email is correctly configured

Even if a BAA has been obtained, email still poses risks. It is possible for the email service to be incorrectly configured and to violate HIPAA Rules. Your email is not HIPAA-compliant if it is used with an email service that has a BAA.

Google’s G Suite also includes email. It is covered under its business associate agreement.¬†G suite can make email HIPAA compliant¬†if it is used with a business domain. G Suite can be used even if you do not want to use it. However, it is important to configure the service properly to ensure that encryption is in place.

G Suite is different from Gmail. Gmail is not designed for business use. It cannot be made HIPAA compliant. Google doesn’t sign a BAA to provide its free services; it only does so for its paid services.

Train your staff and develop policies regarding email use

It is crucial to train your staff about the proper use of email regarding ePHI once you have established a HIPAA-compliant email service. Many data breaches have been caused by errors made in healthcare staff. These include the accidental sending of ePHI via email that was not encrypted and the sending of ePHI directly to people who are not authorized to see it. All employees must be educated about HIPAA and trained on how to use the email service.

Make sure all emails are kept safe

HIPAA rules regarding email retention are not clear as email retention isn’t specifically mentioned in HIPAA legislation. Individuals can ask for information about disclosures of protected medical information. Email communications may also be required when legal action is brought against a healthcare organization. Covered entities should have an email archive, or at the very least, ensure that emails are stored and backed up. Emails may be required to be kept for a certain period by state laws. Check the laws in your state regarding email. If in doubt, seek legal advice.

Emails relating to privacy changes and security-related emails should be kept for six years. HIPAA also requires that covered entities keep documentation related to compliance efforts for six years.

Even for small- to medium-sized healthcare organizations, 6 years’ worth of emails and attachments requires a lot of storage space. Instead of using email backups, consider using an encrypted and secure email archiving service. This will not only free up storage space but also makes it easy to search for emails within an email archive. Emails can be quickly and easily found if they are required for compliance audits or legal discovery.

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