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Can you email PHI internally?

Can you email PHI internally?

Healthcare providers can email PHI internally, but strict conditions and safeguards are in place to ensure HIPAA compliance. To ensure that PHI remains secure, healthcare providers must understand the HIPAA guidelines surrounding PHI.


What is a HIPAA compliant email?

A HIPAA compliant email is an email communication system or practice that adheres to the regulations set forth by HIPAA.

Go deeper: HIPAA Compliant Email: The Definitive Guide


Benefits of Emailing PHI Internally

  • Efficiency: Email is a quick and convenient way to share critical patient information among staff, improving workflow and decision-making.
  • Accessibility: Accessing PHI via email allows healthcare providers to retrieve patient information quickly, which is especially useful in emergencies or when providing patient care.
  • Documentation: Email communications are a digital trail of patient-related discussions, helping with record-keeping and accountability.

How to send a HIPAA compliant email 

  • Use secure email services 
    • Choose a secure email service specifically designed for healthcare providers, like Paubox. These services are equipped with encryption features to protect the content of the emails.
  • Implement encryption
    • Encryption converts data into a code to prevent unauthorized access. Ensure that your internal email system has encryption capabilities. This is especially important when using free email services like Gmail.
  • Access controls
    • HIPAA mandates access controls, ensuring that only authorized personnel within the organization should have access to PHI. This involves setting up strong user authentication, permissions, and password protection.
  • Regular auditing and monitoring
    • Record who accesses PHI within your internal email system and when. 
  • Employee training 
    • Ensure that all employees understand the importance of HIPAA compliance.

Business Associate Agreements (BAAs)

Suppose your organization uses third-party services or vendors that have access to PHI. In that case, it is essential to establish a business associate agreement. This legally binds them to maintain HIPAA compliance when handling PHI.


Custom or proprietary solutions

Healthcare organizations and hospitals may choose custom email systems that meet their unique needs and security requirements. These solutions align with specific workflows and ensure compliance with HIPAA. Custom systems provide flexibility and can be integrated with healthcare-specific software and systems. They are ideal for organizations with complex processes and enough development, maintenance, and support resources.


Do custom email solutions have to be encrypted?

Encryption is recommended for the following reasons: 

  • Data security: Encrypting the email system adds an extra layer of protection, protecting sensitive information in case of unauthorized access or breaches, even within the organization.
  • Compliance requirements: HIPAA requires that organizations implement appropriate safeguards to protect electronic PHI (ePHI). Email encryption is one such safeguard.
  • Preventing internal data leaks: Encrypting email can help avoid internal data leaks, intentional or unintentional.
  • Data in transit and data at rest: Encrypt internal emails in transit and at rest to secure PHI.
  • Risk mitigation: Internal emails can be accessed by numerous individuals within the organization or hospital. Encrypting email is a proactive security measure, mitigating the risk of data breaches and legal liabilities.
  • Data integrity: Encryption helps ensure that email data remains intact and unaltered during transmission, reducing the risk of data tampering or unauthorized changes to messages.
  • Best practice: Email encryption is considered a best practice in information security, and it aligns with industry standards and recommendations for protecting sensitive data.

See also: What is the HIPAA Security Rule?

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