HIPAA requires both Covered Entities and Business Associates to retain past email communications containing ePHI. The retention period is 6 years. For any healthcare organization, no matter the size of the practice, storing 6 years of emails and attachments requires considerable storage space. Consider using a secure, encrypted email archiving service rather than email backups.
An email archiving service will free up needed hard drive storage space and save time as well. Since an email archive is indexed, searching for emails is a quick and easy process. If emails must be produced for legal purposes or for a compliance audit, they can be quickly and easily retrieved.
Any provider of an email archiving service will also be a Business Associate and therefore subject to HIPAA Rules. A Business Associate Agreement will be required between your office and the archive service provider. The BAA should incorporate reasonable assurances that the service will train their staff on patient privacy and abide by HIPAA requirements concerning the information they store for
From time to time, you may find it convenient to send emails containing ePHI to patients. Remember, however, that consent to use email as a communication method typically must be obtained from the patient in writing
before any ePHI is sent via email, even if a HIPAA compliant email provider is used. Patients must be advised that there are risks to the confidentiality of information sent via email. If they are prepared to accept the risks, emails containing ePHI can be sent without violating HIPAA Rules. Up-to-date Notices of Privacy Policies should offer this information to patients, and signed acknowledgments of receipt should be in the patient’s chart before an email is sent.
If you are unsure of the requirements of HIPAA with respect to email, we recommend that you contact our Certified HIPAA Professionals. As with most issues regarding patient privacy, a little information can go a long way toward staving off disaster.
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