For an email to be HIPAA compliant, the email and its associated communication processes must adhere to strict regulations and standards. This entails several aspects that organizations need to consider.
What is HIPAA compliance?
HIPAA compliance entails ensuring the privacy and security of individuals' protected health information (PHI) within the healthcare industry. HIPAA compliance involves implementing safeguards, policies, and procedures that protect PHI from unauthorized access or disclosure. This is facilitated by the regulations within the Privacy and Security Rule.
This rule sets standards for how healthcare entities can use and disclose PHI. It gives patients certain rights over their health information, such as the right to access their records. HIPAA compliance means respecting these privacy rights and ensuring PHI isn't improperly shared.
This rule focuses on the security of electronic PHI (ePHI). It requires healthcare organizations to implement safeguards to protect ePHI's confidentiality, integrity, and availability. Compliance means taking measures like encryption and access controls to keep ePHI secure from unauthorized access or breaches.
Why do emails need to be HIPAA compliant?
Emails need to be HIPAA compliant primarily to safeguard the privacy and security of individuals' PHI within the healthcare industry. HIPAA regulations exist to ensure that sensitive health data remains confidential and is protected from unauthorized access or disclosure. Without proper safeguards, emails containing PHI can be vulnerable to unauthorized access, interception, or data breaches. Without HIPAA compliant email, this can expose patients' sensitive medical records, putting their privacy at risk and potentially causing emotional distress or harm.
Moreover, non-compliance with HIPAA regulations can result in severe financial penalties and legal repercussions for healthcare organizations, including fines ranging from thousands to millions of dollars.
How to ensure an email is HIPAA compliant
- Email encryption: Confirm that your email solution employs encryption methods such as Transport Layer Security (TLS) to secure data during transmission. Ensure that TLS 1.2 or 1.3 is used, as older versions are not considered secure.
- Policy and procedure setup: Establish internal policies and procedures for HIPAA compliant email. These guidelines should define employees' responsibilities in handling and transmitting PHI electronically.
- Subject line encryption: Encrypt the subject line if it contains ePHI.
- Access controls and authentication: Implement strong access controls, including unique usernames and strong passwords, to ensure that only authorized personnel can access PHI through email systems. Use multi-factor authentication (MFA) for an additional layer of security.
- Secure servers: Ensure email servers and storage are housed in secure data centers with physical and digital safeguards to protect against unauthorized access, theft, and environmental hazards.
- Secure mobile access: If healthcare professionals access email on mobile devices, require the use of secure email apps and enforce encryption, PINs, or biometrics for access.
- Automatic logout: Configure email systems to automatically log users out after a period of inactivity to prevent unauthorized access.
- Secure email attachments: Encrypt email attachments containing PHI separately from the email content, ensuring that even if the email is compromised, the attachments remain protected.
The use of HIPAA compliant email solutions
HIPAA compliant email platforms like Paubox effectively achieve HIPAA compliant communication because they integrate necessary security and privacy features, support policy enforcement, and provide a comprehensive solution for healthcare organizations. 3rd-party email services come with secure servers and data centers that feature physical and digital safeguards. These safeguards protect against unauthorized access, theft, and environmental risks, meeting HIPAA's requirements for secure data storage.