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Addressable requirements for email

Addressable requirements for email

Addressable requirements allow organizations to assess their circumstances and determine whether the requirement is applicable or if an alternative, equally effective measure is more appropriate. This allows for tailored and effective email policies that help protect patient data. 


What are addressable requirements under HIPAA?

Addressable standards or requirements refer to specific security requirements that covered entities, such as healthcare providers or organizations, have the flexibility to address in a manner that is reasonable and appropriate for their unique circumstances. These are not optional; they must be considered and addressed. However, how they are addressed can vary based on factors like an organization's size, resources, and risk analysis. Covered entities must assess each addressable implementation specification to determine its suitability for their environment. 

If it is, they should implement it as specified. If not, they must document their rationale for not implementing it and, if reasonable and appropriate, put in place an equivalent alternative measure that achieves the same security goals. 

See also: The role of administrative safeguards in email


How can these addressable requirements be applied to email policies?

Addressable requirements within email policies allow organizations to tailor their email security measures to their specific needs while maintaining HIPAA compliance. Implementation can occur in the following way:

  1. Risk analysis: Conduct a thorough risk analysis specific to email communications. Identify potential threats and vulnerabilities related to email, considering factors like the types of information transmitted (e.g., protected health information), the volume of email traffic, and the potential consequences of security breaches.
  2. Review addressable specifications: Carefully review each addressable implementation specification within the HIPAA Security Rule that pertains to email security. These specifications might include requirements like email encryption or access controls.
  3. Assess reasonableness and appropriateness: For each addressable specification, assess whether it's reasonable and appropriate for your organization's unique circumstances. This assessment should consider factors such as the organization's size, resources, technical capabilities, and the specific risks identified in the risk analysis.
  4. Implementation options: If a particular addressable specification aligns with your organization's needs and is deemed reasonable and appropriate, implement it as specified in the regulation. For example, if email encryption is required, ensure that sensitive information is always sent securely encrypted.
  5. Alternative security measures: In cases where the addressable specification is not feasible due to operational constraints or other factors, document the rationale behind this decision. Then, implement alternative security measures that achieve an equivalent level of email security. These alternative measures should address the same security goals as the addressable specification. For instance, if email encryption is not feasible, you might implement stringent access controls to limit who can access sensitive emails or use secure email gateways to scan for malware and phishing threats.
  6. Ongoing monitoring and updates: Email policies should not be static. Regularly review and update your email security measures in response to changes in the threat landscape, operational environment, or regulations. Periodic risk assessments can help identify new risks and vulnerabilities that may require adjustments to your email policies.

See also: HITECH and patients rights to access records by email


Examples of addressable requirements that assist in email security

  1. Email encryption: Implementing email encryption to protect the confidentiality and integrity of sensitive information sent via email. HIPAA compliant email uses encryption to protect patient information in transit.
  2. Access controls: Enforcing stringent access controls to ensure that only authorized individuals have access to email accounts and sensitive email content.
  3. Secure login procedures: Implementing secure login procedures, such as two-factor authentication (2FA) or multi-factor authentication (MFA), to enhance the security of email accounts.
  4. Secure email gateways: Employing secure email gateways that scan incoming and outgoing emails for malware, phishing threats, and other security risks.
  5. Audit trails: Establishing audit trails and logs for email activity to monitor and track suspicious or unauthorized email access or activities.
  6. Data loss prevention (DLP): Implementing DLP solutions to monitor and prevent the unauthorized transmission of sensitive data via email.
  7. Secure attachments: Implementing controls for secure handling of email attachments, including scanning for malware and controlling file types that can be sent or received.
  8. Email retention policies: Developing and enforcing email retention policies to manage the storage and deletion of emails containing sensitive information.
  9. User training and awareness: Providing training and awareness programs to educate users about email security best practices, including recognizing phishing attempts and maintaining strong passwords.

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