by Kim C. Stanger, Holland & Hart LLP
The HIPAA Privacy and Security Rules require covered entities (including healthcare providers and health plans) and their business associates to implement certain safeguards when e-mailing or texting electronic protected health information (“e-PHI”) to patients or others.
E-mails and Texts to Patients. The HIPAA Privacy Rule not only allows but requires covered entities to communicate with patients via e-mail or text if requested by the patient. (See 45 CFR 164.522(b)). However, the Privacy Rule requires covered entities to implement appropriate safeguards when e-mailing or texting e-PHI to patients. The Office for Civil Rights (“OCR”) explained:
The Privacy Rule allows covered health care providers to communicate electronically, such as through e-mail, with their patients, provided they apply reasonable safeguards when doing so. (See 45 CFR 164.530(c)). For example, certain precautions may need to be taken when using e-mail to avoid unintentional disclosures, such as checking the e-mail address for accuracy before sending, or sending an e-mail alert to the patient for address confirmation prior to sending the message. Further, while the Privacy Rule does not prohibit the use of unencrypted e-mail for treatment-related communications between health care providers and patients, other safeguards should be applied to reasonably protect privacy, such as limiting the amount or type of information disclosed through the unencrypted e-mail. In addition, covered entities will want to ensure that any transmission of electronic protected health information is in compliance with the HIPAA Security Rule requirements at 45 CFR Part 164, Subpart C.
(OCR FAQ dated 12/15/08, available at http://www.hhs.gov/ocr/privacy/hipaa/faq/health_information_technology/570.html). Continue reading