There is no reason to hesitate: healthcare organizations should use HIPAA compliant email to communicate with other providers and patients. Having trouble-free interactions is vital for covered entities whose primary job is to provide strong patient care. Regrettably, there are still some within the healthcare industry unsure about employing email. HIPAA allows healthcare providers to email patients which demonstrates what we at Paubox know: email is useful and important. And ultimately, it can play a pivotal role in a patient’s journey.
HIPAA and email
HIPAA is legislation from the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS), created in part to combat fraud and abuse related to protected health information (PHI).
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The Privacy Rule provides guidelines for PHI use and disclosure while the Security Rule sets the safeguards needed to properly protect ePHI (electronic PHI). Covered entities must take reasonable steps to secure PHI at rest (in storage) and in motion (in transit). HIPAA labels encryption as “addressable," and it must be used “whenever deemed appropriate.” As there is no suitable alternative method, email encryption is necessary. Organizations do not need patient authorization for essential healthcare operations and/or patient treatment. But organizations may need to provide accommodations if a patient requests an alternate communication method. RELATED: Permitted use and disclosure of protected health information (PHI) under HIPAA Emailing PHI is not a HIPAA violation as long as essential safeguards are correctly set.
So why the hesitation?
A 2016 study discovered that healthcare organizations were uncertain about the viability of email. The worry goes a bit deeper today as email is the weakest link (or threat vector) in any computer system. Paubox’s HIPAA Breach Report for October 2021 lists email as the second most common breach type. SEE ALSO: What is HHS’ Wall of Shame For healthcare organizations, an unsecured data breach could mean PHI exposure, HIPAA violations, astronomical costs, and possible shutdowns. These are serious problems that many incorrectly assume are unavoidable when using email.
Best HIPAA compliant email practices
But such issues can be prevented by taking HIPAA compliant steps to protect PHI.
Under HIPAA, it is important to establish strong policies about email access, from privileged access management to password supervision. Moreover setting technical safeguards and email security from the beginning ensure that employees understand how to use email properly.
RELATED: How to send HIPAA compliant email
It may seem like a lot but once secure, email becomes a great tool for healthcare providers.
Your patients already use email for everything
A 2019 Adobe Email Usage Study found that Americans spend more than three hours a day checking work email and more than two hours a day checking personal email. In fact, more than half of the world’s population actively uses email today. So if your patients already have at least one email account, doesn’t it seem like the simplest way to contact them? Especially when 93% of patients choose to email their doctors? Patients want to use email communication because it is quick and easy to manage. It is an easy convenience for both doctors and patients. Consider how long it could take to make a phone call when there is only one dedicated line or one person answering. Or the time spent waiting for a letter sent through the mail. With a single email, a patient could learn more about their own needs or health faster than through other methods.
Better patient engagement
Healthcare organizations can use email for a variety of reasons: to send appointment reminders, share educational material, provide results, and/or send prescriptions.
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Generally, the more a patient is involved in their health, the better health outcomes. And studies indicate that patient engagement through email improves patient outcomes. Researchers thought patient portals were the perfect communication solution for better patient engagement. But interest in portals has been low.
HIPAA compliant email is better than a portal because it provides what patients want: easy access and interaction.
Great tool for marketing
Email marketing is the best digital marketing channel for healthcare providers. Organizations can use it to build new and long-lasting relationships with patients.
Email marketing encourages patient activation and improves patient outcomes. Moreover, it could prevent adverse events and educate people about their health or worldwide issues, such as the COVID-19 pandemic. In fact, healthcare email newsletters are shown to be effective in engaging patients whether tailored to a few or sent en masse. And the great thing is that using email marketing is not a HIPAA violation. Although in some instances patient authorization is required.
How Paubox can help
Paubox Email Suite offers email security and HIPAA compliance while providing healthcare providers with an easy and simple communication tool.
Organizations send automatically encrypted emails, delivered directly to patients without requiring the use of extra passwords or logins. And Paubox Email Suite works from your existing email platform such as Google Workspace or Microsoft 365. Furthermore, our Plus and Premium plans come equipped with the innovative, proactive inbound tools like Zero Trust Email and ExecProtect to block cyberattacks.
And Paubox Marketing is the best HIPAA compliant marketing solution with the same security as Paubox Email Suite and seamless, fast communication. Our solutions are all HITRUST CSF certified—a distinction that demonstrates that Paubox has met key regulatory requirements to appropriately manage risk. Healthcare providers must embrace the role that HIPAA compliant email can have in a patient’s journey and health. The main aim of healthcare is to keep people healthy, and ultimately, strong patient communication is part of it.