Running a healthcare organization requires more than offering quality care to patients. It is also about compliance with the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act (HIPAA), considering the sheer volume of data healthcare providers handle through all stages of treatment.

Despite organizations doing their bit to safeguard sensitive patient data, breaches are common in the industry. A study by the HIPAA Journal disclosed that 2023 was the worst year ever for attacks, with 725 hacking incidents leading to a breach of 124 million health records.

Undoubtedly, Protected Health Information (PHI) is at risk, and email communication is one of the weakest links. For this reason, HIPAA email compliance is something healthcare providers cannot take for granted. It entails several measures to prevent unauthorized parties from accessing the information during storage or transmission in emails. 

The importance of avoiding HIPAA email compliance violations cannot be undermined. Non-compliance has dire consequences, from hefty financial penalties to loss of trust among patients and significant reputational damage. Civil penalties may range from $137 to $68,928 per violation, while criminal penalties for intentional violations may lead to potential imprisonment. 

Fortunately, healthcare organizations can avoid HIPAA violations in email communications by implementing a few actionable measures. We will highlight these for you. 

Set Clear Ground Rules for Sending Patient Data

Statistics show an exponential boom in healthcare data, with 30% of the global data volume being generated by the industry. The annual growth rate is expected to reach 36% by 2025, growing 11% faster than media and entertainment and 10% faster than financial services. With such massive volumes of data to handle, organizations must set clear ground rules for sending out PHI in emails.

These policies should define the people who have access to PHI. Also, they should set guidelines regarding when it is acceptable to send it via email. The objective is to ensure that only authorized personnel should have access to a patient’s data. Also, they should send emails containing PHI only when required for patient care or administrative purposes. 

Besides framing ground rules, the management team should make sure that every employee is aware of them. Additionally, they should revisit and refine these rules when necessary. 

Encrypt PHI for Secure Transmission

According to a recent survey, lack of encryption is the biggest reason for businesses facing data breaches. Nearly 81% of respondents stated their organizations had dedicated teams for handling encryption. 

Healthcare companies can also stay ahead of the HIPAA email compliance guidelines by encrypting PHI in emails.

With encryption, information is converted into an unreadable code. This code can only be deciphered with the appropriate key. Even if an email is intercepted by hackers, they do not get a chance to read it and use it for illegitimate purposes. Encryption adds an extra security layer to protect sensitive healthcare data. 

Choose a HIPAA Compliant Email Provider

When it comes to steering clear of HIPAA email violations, nothing matters more than selecting a like-minded email provider. Look for one that supports safeguards such as access controls and audit controls. Also, they should have security measures to fortify the confidentiality of data at rest and in transit. 

For example, user authentication and encryption are a few features that make a provider reliable. Check the providers in the market and learn more about the features and services they offer. 

Also, read reviews to understand what first-hand users think about these providers.

Get Consent from Patients

According to the National Library of Medicine, informed consent involves educating a patient about the benefits, risks, and alternatives of a healthcare intervention or procedure. A healthcare provider is responsible for implementing these steps to ensure that the patients make informed choices. The patient has to a voluntary decision about whether to opt in or out of a given procedure.

Patient consent is an integral part of healthcare services, and it is applicable to email communication as well. HIPAA requires healthcare organizations to obtain patient consent before sending emails with confidential medical reports and information. The mandate aims to ensure effective communication without compromising the security of PHI.

Patient consent should be documented with proper details for patients to read and comprehend. Additionally, it should explain the risks of using email for PHI transmission. Besides seeking consent, providers must give patients the option to opt out if they are not keen on using email to communicate their health data. 

Secure Devices Used to Transmit PHI

The Data Breach Investigations Report (DBIR), 2023, revealed that 68% of global data breaches involved unintentional human action. These include incidents such as a person making an inadvertent error or falling prey to a social engineering attack. Many times, people tend to pay less attention to device security. 

In the context of HIPAA email compliance violations, lack of device security can be a significant risk. For this reason, healthcare companies must secure the devices used to receive and send PHI. Steps such as implementing strong passwords, ensuring that devices are encrypted, and using biometric authentication where possible can be helpful. 

Providers must also stay on top of regular system and software updates to safeguard devices against vulnerabilities. With these simple measures for device security, it is possible to keep hacking attacks at bay. Training employees is an essential part of reducing device risks and vulnerabilities. 

Maintaining Trust and Reputation through HIPAA Email Compliance

To wrap things up, HIPAA email compliance should be a priority for healthcare organizations, regardless of the company size and patient data volumes handled. A focus on compliance guidelines is essential to safeguard patient information and avoid penalties. At the same time, it protects the organization from the financial and reputational risks associated with non-compliance. 

While preventing HIPAA email compliance violations might seem complicated, it is doable. The implementation of these best practices can help organizations to stay compliant, maintain patient trust, and fortify their reputation.