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HIPAA compliant email to improve healthcare access for the homeless

HIPAA compliant email to improve healthcare access for the homeless

Providers can use HIPAA compliant emails to help unhoused individuals overcome barriers to healthcare access by facilitating communication, delivering timely reminders, and providing educational resources.

The 2023 Annual Homeless Assessment Report estimates that "approximately 653,100 people were experiencing homelessness on a single night in 2023 – a 12% increase (or about 70,650 more people) from 2022." Accessing healthcare can be difficult for vulnerable populations, especially unhoused individuals. However, HIPAA compliant emails could help increase access to healthcare, leading to better healthcare outcomes. 

study on technology use among homeless adults states that, "[Unhoused] adults experience increased risk of negative health outcomes, and technology-based interventions may provide an opportunity for improving health in this population." 

This could lead to better access to healthcare resources, improved communication with healthcare providers, and increased overall health literacy among unhoused adults. However, providers must also consider the underlying social determinants of health, such as housing insecurity and lack of resources, that impact the overall health outcomes for this vulnerable population.

Read also: Using email and text messaging in health advocacy


Overcoming communication barriers

Communication barriers often hinder unhoused individuals from accessing healthcare services. However, the abovementioned study showed that "the vast majority (94%) currently own a cell phone." Traditional modes of communication, such as phone calls or physical mail, may not always be feasible for this population due to the lack of a permanent address or consistent phone access. So, emails could be a reliable way of communication.


Appointment reminders and follow-ups

It is not unusual for unhoused people to miss important medical appointments because they may find it difficult to remember dates or may have limited access to transportation. A narrative review further explains, “Being contactable for appointment reminders or changes is another barrier for people without a mailing address or a phone. What may look like missed outpatient appointments due to unreliability is often because the appointment card was sent to ‘No fixed address’.”

This may result in a vicious cycle of insufficient healthcare and worsened medical issues. Healthcare practitioners could lower the number of unhoused individuals who miss appointments by using emails for follow-ups and reminders. Easy-to-remember appointment reminders, public transportation choices, and instructions to medical facilities can help people make an informed decision about which medical requirements to prioritize.


Access to health education and resources

Ebony Johnson, from the United Way's Choose HEALTH program in Atlanta, Georgia, emphasizes the importance of education in healthcare for unhoused individuals: "Education is key. [When] we're able to educate our patient population on how to manage their chronic conditions and look more holistically at a person, we're more successful in preventing avoidable hospital visits and helping people manage their chronic conditions."

So, providers can use emails to send educational resources, with information on preventive care, managing chronic conditions, or how to access community health services. Emails can include tips on managing chronic conditions like diabetes or hypertension or guidance on accessing free or low-cost community health services. Additionally, it can provide information on local resources like mobile clinics or shelters offering healthcare assistance.


Secure communication

Privacy concerns often deter individuals from seeking healthcare services, especially among vulnerable populations like the unhoused. HIPAA compliant emails can offer a secure and confidential means of communication between patients and healthcare providers. Platforms like Paubox provide robust email encryption solutions tailored to healthcare needs. They safeguard patients' protected health information (PHI) at rest and during transmission.



What role do cell phones play in facilitating healthcare access for unhoused individuals?

The vast majority of unhoused individuals have a cell phone. This can help them access healthcare services and receive communication via email despite their transient living situations.


Can email encryption solutions be integrated with existing electronic health record (EHR) systems?

Yes, email encryption solutions can be integrated into various EHR systems. This allows providers to securely send and receive protected health information (PHI) directly within their existing workflow. This integration streamlines communication processes, ensures HIPAA compliance, and maintains patient privacy by encrypting emails containing sensitive health information.


Can healthcare providers use texts to communicate securely with unhoused individuals?

Yes, providers can use HIPAA compliant text messaging platforms, like Paubox, to send encrypted messages to unhoused individuals. This allows for secure communication while also ensuring that sensitive information remains protected. 


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