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The Complete Guide to HIPAA Email Disclaimers

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What is HIPAA?

Enacted by the U.S. Congress in August 1996, the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act (HIPAA) offers protection for millions of American workers by improving the portability and continuity of health insurance coverage. It requires U.S. healthcare providers and covered entities to have technical safeguards in place to protect personal health records. These include audit controls, integrity controls, and transmission security.

Considerations for your HIPAA email disclaimer

HIPAA violations are strictly prohibited and are enforceable with severe penalties. In fact, both civil and criminal penalties can be raised against a non-compliant individual or company.

Typically, a breach that is classed as reasonable is liable for a $100 to $50,000 fine. However, fines for willful negligence cases can range from $1,000 to $50,000 with additional criminal charges. The maximum fine can be over $1.5 million per violation and up to ten years of potential jail time. More and more healthcare providers are being found to have committed HIPAA violations, particularly in the last decade alone.

The need for a HIPAA email disclaimer

Email is still the preferred communication method for patients and healthcare practices across the U.S. This is unlikely to change in the future.

The problem is that email as a channel is inherently insecure. Data is not encrypted by default, especially by popular email clients like Outlook and Gmail. This means there is no way of telling if a receiver is actually the intended recipient.

Email communications are permitted under HIPAA regulations, but specific precautions must be made. HIPAA requires that any electronic data be encrypted, and patient consent obtained in order to use their information. At the same time, every email that you send must come with a HIPAA email disclaimer to assist with full HIPAA compliance.

A typical HIPAA email disclaimer

Why you might ask? A HIPAA email disclaimer is used to inform patients and recipients that information contained within an email may be Protected Health Information (PHI) and is not 100% secure. This means any recipient that chooses to reply with confidential information does so at their own risk. It also encourages people that should not be reading the message to forward it to the correct party.

This HIPAA email disclaimer can also tell patients not to disclose personal information. Examples include their date of birth or medical information. Basically, the disclaimer is designed to reduce your liability in the event that patient data is intercepted by unknown parties and used for nefarious purposes.

It is worth remembering that a compliant HIPAA email disclaimer is designed only to inform. It will not make your organization 100 percent compliant. HIPAA is designed to put patients first and foremost. This means your disclaimer needs to inform recipients of the risks related to their correspondence.

Not sure what to put in your HIPAA email disclaimer? Check out these 4 great examples to give you some inspiration.

So how do I add a HIPAA email disclaimer?

If you run a small healthcare practice, your email needs will most likely be relatively simple. This means you can probably add a disclaimer directly to your email client. You can do this on an individual basis with little IT support.

Below are a couple of guides to get you started:

For larger practices, your IT team will be responsible for ensuring all messages have an appropriate HIPAA email disclaimer. However, this is often where issues arise. Disclaimers are known to be very difficult to manage on a large scale. Employees can still tamper with the messaging, important wording can be missed out, IT updates will take a considerable amount of time and, of course, there is the risk of legal action for noncompliance.

With Exclaimer email signature solutions, you never have to worry about an email leaving your organization without an appropriate HIPAA email disclaimer again. Whether your users are sending from a desktop or mobile device, Exclaimer ensures disclaimers are added to all of their emails, aiding in your goal for full HIPAA compliance.

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