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Can you discuss health issues with patients via email?

Can you discuss health issues with patients via email?

HIPAA allows healthcare providers to discuss health issues with patients through email, but security measures must be taken.

Considerations before sending that email

  • Privacy and security: Healthcare providers should use secure HIPAA compliant email solutions to maintain the privacy and security of patient health information. 
  • Informed consent: Patients should provide informed consent before engaging in email communication about their health. This consent form should outline the risks, benefits, and limitations of using email for healthcare discussions so patients understand the implications.
  • Suitable for non-urgent matters: Email communication is best suited for non-urgent matters, such as prescription refill requests, discussing test results, or providing general health information. For urgent or emergency situations, patients should contact their healthcare providers through more direct ways, such as phone calls or in-person visits.
  • Clear communication boundaries: Establish clear boundaries and expectations for email communication. This may include guidelines regarding healthcare providers' availability, expected response times, and issues that can be discussed via email.
  • Recognize limitations: Email has limitations, including the absence of visual cues and the inability to conduct physical examinations. 
  • Documentation: Email conversations can serve as written documentation of healthcare discussions, which is useful for both patients and healthcare providers.
  • Follow-up: After providing information or recommendations through email, healthcare providers should ask patients to follow up.


What health issues can be discussed via email?

Email is a useful medium for discussing non-urgent health issues and administrative matters with patients. Here are some examples of health-related topics that are suitable for email communication:

  • Prescription refills: Patients can request prescription refills through email, making it a convenient way to manage ongoing medication needs.
  • Appointment scheduling: Patients can inquire about available appointment slots, request appointment changes, or confirm upcoming appointments through email.
  • Test results: Non-urgent test results, such as routine blood work or imaging reports, can be shared with patients via email. Ensure that the email platform is secure to protect sensitive data.
  • General health information: Patients can seek general health information, advice on managing chronic conditions, or tips for healthy living through email.
  • Medication questions: Patients can ask questions about their medications, including potential side effects, dosage instructions, and alternatives.
  • Administrative inquiries: Matters such as billing questions, insurance inquiries, or medical record requests can be handled through email.
  • Follow-up on previous discussions: Patients may have follow-up questions about previous consultations.
  • Referrals and specialist appointments: Patients can ask about getting referrals to specialists or other healthcare providers.
  • Non-urgent medical advice: Non-urgent medical concerns or minor symptoms can be addressed through email. 

Related: Empowering patients through HIPAA compliant email solutions

How to send HIPAA compliant email

  1. Secure patient information in transit and at rest: Use secure email solutions that encrypt messages and attachments in transit and at rest.
  2. Enter into a business associate agreement: If using a third-party email solution, a business associate agreement (BAA) is required.
  3. Set up policies and procedures: An internal policy for HIPAA compliant email ensures all employees know their responsibilities regarding handling and transmitting protected health information (PHI) electronically.
  4. Train your staff on secure email best practices: Healthcare organizations should train employees on policies and procedures for sending HIPAA compliant emails. 

Go deeper: How to send HIPAA compliant emails

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