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HIPAA Compliance Checklist for Email Communications

The Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act (HIPAA) is the law that sets standards relating to storing, collecting, and transmitting Protected Health Information (PHI). Being HIPAA compliant is mandatory for health organizations if they seek to secure information on their databases. Here are some helpful checklist items for HIPAA compliant email communication: 

1. Access Control

Having access controls, like two-factor authentication, on your email platform can help secure your data by keeping out unauthorized personnel. It’s advisable to use strong, unique passwords that combine digits and characters to protect your email messages and accounts. Use a unique password for each site and application. Consider using transport layer security (TLS) and a virtual private network (VPN) to secure your internet connection. All unencrypted connections should be blocked. Log out of your system when it’s out of use and emphasize opt-out email encryption, which can help minimize breaches due to human error. Use software capable of wiping away sensitive email remotely in case your device gets misplaced or stolen.

2. Encryption

An email can be stolen, modified, forged, or read by an unauthorized person during transmission. To protect and secure communication via email, adopt email encryption features that adhere to HIPAA security rules. Encryption helps you send and receive secure messages from anyone with any email address. This feature allows users to prevent insecure data transmission through email for sensitive data sharing. Encryption can also help users retrieve emails sent to the wrong addresses by exploring message reactions. This satisfies the HIPAA omnibus rule as it avoids opt-in encryption.

3. Authorization and Server Management

Part of HIPAA compliant email communication involves eliminating employee or company impersonation. Configuring your domains with DKIM and SPF, features that prevent falsified email content, allows you to verify senders’ addresses and information. It also prohibits other users from sending emails through your servers without encryption and authentication. This helps healthcare providers manage their email in-house and adequately research and vet the person responsible for messaging services. A yearly email security review is recommended to help take proactive measures when necessary and remain up-to-date with emerging cybersecurity threats.

4. Cyber Defense

HIPAA mandates organizations to implement defense mechanisms against cyber attacks. Implementing security technologies can help you identify malicious emails by scanning workstations and outbound emails to detect viruses and malware. Email filtering software helps you detect fraudulent messages. Inbound antivirus programs scan emails to detect malicious links and phishing. A healthcare organization’s can customize their protection to include auto-blocking familiar attackers, creating login audit trials, and receiving alerts and reports on security successes and failures.

5. Backups and Archives

HIPAA requires that messages containing PHI be retained for up to six years. To stay compliant, your organization should examine how it backs up its email folders. Having at least two backup systems in different geographical locations working independently is advisable. Consdier investing in well-maintained, separate, searchable, and permanent archives. The emails within these archives should be tamper-proof and easy to retrieve. Archives and backups help healthcare teams respond promptly to email audit requests and defend against legal concerns.

6. Reviews and Policies

Consider creating email procedures and policies to help prevent vulnerability and human errors. Actionable steps include having an independent third party review your user settings and email policies and blocking public WIFI on devices connected to your facility’s sensitive email. Advise your users against clicking links and opening attachments from unfamiliar sources. Regularly training employees on secure email communication and usage policies can help your organization remain HIPAA compliant.

Get HIPAA Compliant Email Services Today

Certified email security experts can help healthcare organizations protect their patient’s sensitive information and remain HIPAA compliant. Look for software providers that prioritize encryption, user authentication, and cybersecurity methods. Contact a HIPAA compliant email service provider today to learn more about secure email communications.

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