How to Make Your Outgoing Emails HIPAA Compliant?

By: Standss Contributor , May 10th, 2022

Compliance with the HIPAA law is a mandatory requirement for any business operating within the healthcare industry. The Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act stipulates that personal health information to be secured when it is held or transferred electronically. This includes any healthcare records and histories, lab results, medical bills, and identifiable health information.

The HIPPA journal defines HIPPA compliance as fulfilling the requirements of the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act of 1996. It’s subsequent amendments, and any related legislation such as HITECH.

One of the most widely used channels to communicate personal health information is email. Your company must meet HIPAA compliance for its email. This is by ensuring that your employees are not sending emails and sensitive documents to the wrong recipient.

Who is a covered entity under HIPAA?

The HIPAA law covers both individuals and organizations. Parties that are covered under the HIPPA regulation are called HIPAA-covered entities.

Basically, HIPPA-covered entities include health plan companies, clearinghouses, and health care providers. Healthcare organizations and their business associates are also HIPPA-covered entities.

Health plan companies include health insurance companies, health maintenance organizations, employer-sponsored health plans, and government programs that pay for health care, like Medicare, Medicaid, and military and veterans’ health programs Clearinghouses are a separate agency that processes nonstandard health information to conform to standards for data content and format. 

Health-care providers are clinics, doctors, dentists, nursing homes, pharmacies and other entities that provide health services.

The HIPAA journal states that –

A Covered Entity is a health care provider, a health plan, or a healthcare clearinghouse that, in its normal activities, creates, maintains, or transmits PHI. There are exceptions. Most health care providers employed by a hospital are not Covered Entities. The hospital is the Covered Entity and is responsible for implementing and enforcing HIPAA-compliant policies.

Employers – despite maintaining health care information about their employees – are not generally Covered Entities unless they provide self-insured health cover or benefits such as an Employee Assistance Program (EAP). In these cases, they are considered to be “hybrid entities” and any unauthorized disclosure of PHI may still be considered a breach of HIPAA.

Why do you need to be HIPPA Compliant?

A former employee of a New York-based Huntington Hospital was charged with a criminal HIPPA violation for improperly accessing electronic medical records without role-based authorization.

The suspended employee may have accessed names, birth dates, addresses, internal account numbers, telephone numbers, medical record numbers, diagnoses, medication information, lab results, and names of healthcare providers. 

Due to this incident, Huntington Hospital is offering all impacted patients free identity theft protection services for one year. Such situations often impact organizations financially as in Huntington Hospital’s case. No business would want to end up in that situation.

A California-based SuperCare Health is facing a lawsuit for disclosing the PHI of 318,379 individuals, making it one of the largest reported healthcare data breaches of 2022. An unauthorized individual gained access to the medical firm’s network and had access to HIPPA-protected information.

According to reports, the lawsuit alleged that SuperCare “failed to adequately adopt and train its employees on even the most basic of information security protocols.”

If your organization does not meet HIPPA regulations, then it can face substantial fines. This can happen even if no breach of personal health information has occurred.

And if there is a data breach you can face criminal charges and civil action lawsuits. Medical practitioners could even have their professional licenses revoked or suspended.

The main purpose of the HIPAA regulation is to protect the confidential information of patients, thus enforcing digital data privacy. The HIPPA law encourages health service providers to build a trust relationship with their patients. This is by making patient care better and more efficient.

Besides, failure to comply with HIPAA regulations could land your business in legal trouble which isn’t good for your corporate image like the above-mentioned medical providers.

Therefore, any business that has access to personal health information must ensure that technical, physical, and administrative safeguards are in place to protect the integrity of PHI.

How to ensure HIPPA Compliance?

Anyone that has access to confidential patient information must comply with the HIPAA security rule.

The correct technology should be used to protect patient information and manage access to it. Whether the PHI is at rest or in transit. Once it leaves the organization’s domain, it must be encrypted in accordance with NIST standards. This is to make the confidential patient information unreadable, unusable, and indecipherable, in case there’s a breach.

As a business that deals with PHI, you should implement tools that facilitate secure communication of confidential medical data.  The tools that you chose should be able to provide activity logs. Logs that clearly show how the data was used and any improper use of the data should be registered. Any device or service that handles sensitive PHI, such as servers, hardware devices, and email, should use these technical precautions.

Physical safeguards that control unauthorized physical access must also be implemented.  Policies must be implemented that control the access to workstations that hold sensitive patient data and what user roles are allocated to those who perform functions on those workstations.  The risk and compliance department within your organization must ensure that technical and physical safeguards are in place that governs the use of sensitive medical information of patients.

To determine where PHI is used, they should be able to conduct a risk assessment. Then consider all of the ways that data could be exposed or compromised.

How SendGuard helps you to comply with HIPPA?

You may have at some point in time mistakenly sent an email to the wrong person?

For healthcare organizations, companies that deal with sensitive patient information and pharmaceuticals such mistakes can have severe financial impacts and penalties.

As such strict compliance with HIPPA is a “no-brainer” for any healthcare company.

You can use SendGuard for Outlook to confirm recipients and attachments in Microsoft Outlook when sending outgoing emails. This proactively prevents any data leakages that can result from misaddressed emails. You can also very easily add DLP functionality in SendGuard. To scan outgoing emails and attachments and ensure that confidential medical records do not leave your company’s network.

SendGuard assists you in being HIPPA compliant by preventing the compromise of electronic personal health information due to unintentional emailing. You also have access to activity logs via SendGuard that can reduce your organizational liability in the event of an investigation by showing that you had taken preventative measures to secure confidential PHI.

Got any questions? Our sales team would be happy to answer your queries on sales@stands.com.

You can try out our 30-day no-risk trial to fully explore what SendGuard has to offer.

SendGuard for Outlook

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