Email is a powerful method of communication that allows businesses to communicate with customers everywhere. With all of the data that gets sent and received, it’s important for companies to be conscious of how that data is managed and protected, especially those that operate within industries that are strictly regulated.
Healthcare marketers are well-versed in the regulations of HIPAA (the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act) that govern marketing practices in the industry. Our comprehensive guide goes beyond the basics to keep you informed and empowered in achieving HIPAA compliant email marketing success.
What is HIPAA Compliant Email?
In order to understand the basics of a HIPAA compliant email, it’s important to first understand what HIPAA is. Why was it created and why is it important?
HIPPA is a set of regulations that were created to protect the privacy of patients and their protected health information, also known as PHI. This is a federal law meant to keep sensitive information safe which means it cannot be disclosed to anyone other than the patient without consent.
How does email play a part in this? It’s not uncommon for information to be sent through digital communications and when that happens, it’s important for marketers and businesses to be aware of any potential breaches of HIPAA. A HIPAA compliant email employs secure communication methods and protocols so that the privacy and integrity of any PHI is safeguarded when it’s being shared through email.
How to Send HIPAA Compliant Emails
There’s plenty to consider when you’re sending HIPAA compliant emails. You have to be aware of what you’re sending, who you’re sending it to, and the technologies behind it.
HIPAA Compliant Email Strategies
When you’re creating emails to send to your list, it’s important to double and then triple check your work to make sure they are compliant. Here are a few strategies to consider implementing:
- Consent: PHI cannot be disclosed to anyone without the knowledge or consent of the patient. Prior to sending out any emails, be sure to obtain written consent from individuals involved that outline the purpose and nature of communication.
- Secure Email Platforms: Don’t take shortcuts when it comes to your platform. Take the time to research your options and choose an email service provider that offers HIPAA compliant features and options to encrypt the contents of the email.
- Employee Training: Make sure everyone understands the basics of HIPAA by ensuring that any employees who handle PHI are properly trained in the regulations. Reviewing security best practices and proper PHI handling on a regular basis is also helpful.
- Email Monitoring: Regularly audit email usage to ensure that it is compliant with regulations and make sure you have safeguards in place to prevent unauthorized access to any private information. This includes password protecting, multi-factor authentication, encryption, and other technical safeguards.
Violations and Fines
Non-compliant emails can lead to serious consequences. Those that violate HIPAA regulations can find themselves facing civil and criminal penalties.
- Civil Penalties: There are different violations that each have a minimum and maximum penalty associated with them. Violations include Unknowing, Reasonable Cause, Willful Neglect with Timely Correction, and Willful Neglect Without Timely Correction. Fines can range from $100 per violation for the minimum severity and duration to $1,500,000 per violation for the most severe.
- Criminal Penalties: In addition to civil penalties, those who violate HIPAA regulations may also face criminal penalties. These fall within three tiers from Tier 1 (Misdemeanor) which can warrant up to a year of potential jail time to Tier 3 (Felony) which can lead up to 20 years of potential jail time.
Email Encryption Methods
Encrypting emails is one of the most crucial components when it comes to ensuring that PHI is safe and secure. We’ll cover several methods that can help keep PHI confidential and within compliance of HIPAA:
Transport Layer Security (TLS)
Transport Layer Security is a protocol that encrypts the connection between email servers. This method is focused on ensuring secure transmissions and can protect your emails as they make their way from your server and into the inbox of the recipient.
Pretty Good Privacy (PGP)
Pretty Good Privacy is a method that lets you encrypt and then decrypt your emails using a combination of public and private keys responsible for verifying identities and encrypting content.
Secure/Multipurpose Mail Extensions (S/MIME)
Secure/Multipurpose Mail Extensions utilizes digital certificates to verify identities and ensure message integrity. It’s a method for digitally signing and encrypting emails.
Web portals can facilitate communication and give healthcare organizations the ability to share PHI with patients securely. These are accessed through password-protected accounts and gives everyone secure access to information.
HIPAA Compliant Email Encryption Vendors
There are a variety of vendors out there that offer HIPAA compliant email encryption services. A quick search will bring up several results such as Barracuda, Identillect, MailHippo, and more. They offer various features that can help organizations and businesses maintain HIPAA compliance such as secure email gateways, email encryption, and compliance management tools.
We can’t emphasize the importance of selecting a reputable vendor enough because it ensures the confidentiality and security of important and private patient information in email communications.
The team at emfluence values this so much that we’ve designed our own marketing automation platform to be HIPAA compliant. With strict policies and procedures in place, you can trust that your data is secure and encrypted, taking one less worry off your plate when it comes to marketing.