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Rules for HIPAA compliant email communications

Rules for HIPAA compliant email communications

The Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act (HIPAA) establishes guidelines and rules for the secure transmission of protected health information (PHI), including via email communication. HIPAA email rules aim to balance the requirement for effective communication with safeguarding patient privacy and data security.

What are the HIPAA email rules?

  • Encryption: Emails containing PHI must be encrypted to prevent unauthorized access during transmission. 
  • Access controls: Access to PHI should be restricted to authorized individuals only. This means implementing measures such as strong passwords and multifactor authentication.
  • Audit trails: Organizations should maintain audit trails of all email communications containing PHI. 
  • Secure messaging platforms: Use secure messaging platforms specifically designed for healthcare communication. These platforms often include built-in encryption and security features tailored to HIPAA compliance. Paubox Email Suite is a HIPAA compliant email platform that offers encrypted email services and strict access controls. 
  • Patient consent: Patients should provide consent before their PHI is transmitted via email. This consent should be documented and kept on file.
  • Training and awareness: Healthcare staff should receive training on HIPAA regulations and best practices for handling PHI, including email communication. 
  • Business associate agreements (BAAs): If you are using a third-party email service provider or other business associate to handle PHI, you must have a signed BAA in place. 
  • Secure attachments: If sending attachments containing PHI via email, ensure they are encrypted or password-protected.
  • Secure disposal: Once emails containing PHI are no longer needed, they should be securely deleted or archived following HIPAA guidelines to prevent unauthorized access.
  • Regular risk assessments: Conduct regular risk assessments to identify potential vulnerabilities in your email systems and processes. Address any weaknesses promptly to maintain compliance with HIPAA regulations.


Why implement HIPAA compliant email rules?

HIPAA email regulations aim to address various aspects of healthcare communication and safeguard patient information, thereby serving multiple objectives. Here is why covered entities should implement these rules:

  • Patient privacy protection: The primary goal of HIPAA email rules is to safeguard the privacy of patients by ensuring that their PHI is not improperly accessed, disclosed, or compromised during electronic communication.
  • Data security: HIPAA email rules help covered entities maintain the security of sensitive patient information transmitted via email.
  • Legal compliance: Compliance with HIPAA email rules is mandatory for covered entities and business associates under the HIPAA Privacy and Security Rules. Failure to adhere to these regulations can result in severe penalties, including fines and legal sanctions. 
  • Risk mitigation: Implementing HIPAA email rules, healthcare providers can mitigate the risks associated with electronic communication, such as data breaches, identity theft, and inadvertent disclosure of PHI. 
  • Efficient communication: While HIPAA email rules impose strict security requirements, they also aim to facilitate efficient and timely communication within the healthcare industry. 



What are the encryption requirements for HIPAA compliant email communication?

Healthcare organizations should implement robust encryption protocols such as Transport Layer Security (TLS) or Secure/Multipurpose Internet Mail Extensions (S/MIME) to protect PHI during transmission.


Can I use my personal email account to communicate with patients or colleagues in a healthcare setting?

Using personal email accounts for healthcare communication is discouraged due to security and compliance concerns. Personal email accounts may not provide the necessary encryption and security features required to protect patient information under HIPAA. 

Read moreHow do I make my personal email HIPAA compliant?


What is the difference between encrypted and secure email?

An encrypted email ensures that its contents are encoded and can only be deciphered by the intended recipient. Secure email on the other hand encompasses a broader range of security measures beyond encryption, and includes additional features, and protective measures to safeguard against various email-based threats.

Go deeperUnderstanding the difference between secure and encrypted email


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