A question that baffles the most well-versed healthcare professionals even today is – What Email is HIPAA Compliant?
If you work in the Healthcare sector, you handle protected health information (PHI) on a daily basis and need to ensure that all communication pertaining to PHI remains confidential and HIPAA compliant. But, safeguarding patient data remains a challenge for most healthcare providers. In this article, we will analyze some of the major points pertaining to HIPAA Compliance and Email including – what HIPAA Compliance is, does HIPAA apply to Emails, is Gmail HIPAA Compliant and more.
The Covid-19 pandemic has acted as a catalyst in increasing the number of data breaches and cyber-attacks in all industries, healthcare being no exception. Healthcare data breaches have dominated newsrooms recently and the HIPAA Journal reported a total of 707 data breaches in the period between September 2020 and August 2021. On carefully reviewing the OCR’s HIPAA Breach Portal it becomes abundantly clear that Email is one of the top channels for HIPAA breaches.
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What is HIPAA Compliance?
Okay, let’s make this easy.
The Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act (HIPAA) requires business associates and covered entities to ensure the privacy of healthcare information.
This means it is quintessential for all healthcare service providers and their business associates to protect and secure patient data at all costs.
Does HIPAA apply to emails?
In short, yes, but it’s complicated. The HIPAA Compliance of emails is a topic that is often discussed, debated and disputed. While some people argue that with the right precautions and techniques, email can be HIPAA compliant, others disagree vehemently.
It is indeed true that emails are convenient to use, but they may not be secure. Oftentimes, encrypting messages during transit does not ensure that they are HIPAA compliant. To ensure HIPAA Compliance of emails one may have to go through the trouble of ensuring end-to-end encryption and secure information during storage and transit. You may even have to implement appropriate access controls to make sure that the recipient of the message was the right one.
Is Gmail HIPAA Compliant?
Gmail is not HIPAA compliant, however, Google’s G Suite that also includes Email is covered by BAA (Business Associate Agreement). Using G Suite with a business domain can help make it HIPAA compliant. Of course, care must be taken to make sure that end-to-end encryption is enforced.
Make sure to remember that Gmail is not the same as G Suite, Gmail is not meant for business use.
How can I make my email HIPAA compliant?
If you send emails with ePHI, it becomes imperative to make your emails HIPAA compliant. Listed below are the 5 most important steps in making your email HIPAA compliant:
- Secure Emails with end-to-end encryption
Encrypting Emails at transit does not make them HIPAA compliant, you would have to ensure that they have end-to-end encryption and are protected during transit and storage.
- Always get your email provider to sign a HIPAA-compliant business associate agreement with you
A business associate agreement entails the responsibilities of the vendor and enlists the administrative, physical, and technical safeguards that will be in place to protect the confidentiality of ePHI. You should get into a business associate agreement before using the service for sharing ePHI.
- Create policies and train staff
Getting your staff on board with HIPAA Compliant norms and training them about the correct use of Email when it contains ePHI is of utmost importance because most errors are typically human. Creating new policy documents and spending time giving quality training to staff about HIPAA norms and sending HIPAA Compliant Emails can be crucial in ensuring the safety of patient data.
- Ensure all emails are retained
While retention of Emails is not discussed in the HIPAA legislation, maintaining archives of all Emails are crucial for healthcare professionals in case patients demand information about PHI.
- Request for consent from patients before communicating with them through email
While Email is incredibly easy to use and is a convenient mode of communication, it is vital to always get consent from patients in writing before sending ePHI to them.
What Email is HIPAA Compliant?
It is abundantly clear that ensuring the HIPAA compliance of Emails is of utmost importance to ensure the privacy and protection of patient data. There are many third-party Email service providers that help you stay HIPAA compliant while sending Emails, but it is imperative to sift through the benefits, pros and cons of each and choose the best one for your business.
iFax offers a great Email to Fax service that is both convenient and easy to use. iFax services are completely HIPAA compliant, use 256-bit TLS encryption and are GLBA compliant.
You can fax HIPAA compliant emails in 3 simple steps with iFax:
- Compose the email as you would normally and add email@example.com along with your recipient’s fax number.
- Attach all necessary documents
- Get real-time updates and transmission receipts.
The benefits of iFax go beyond its ease, convenience and being HIPAA compliant. When subscribed to the iFax professional plan, you can use the email to fax service for free without having to pay any additional charges. Another major benefit is that you don’t need to download any additional software to receive faxes in your emails inbox with iFax. It’s end-to-end encryption makes it an ideal choice for anyone in the healthcare industry.
We do hope that you enjoyed reading this guide and that it helped you find answers to all your questions pertaining to the HIPAA Compliance of Emails. No matter what, it is abundantly clear that no organisation can do away with Email in today’s digital age, and using a HIPAA compliant email to fax solution like iFax can ensure the safety, security and privacy of ePHI.