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5 Questions to Find the Right HIPAA-Compliant Email Marketing Platform

Tuesday, June 15th, 2021

If you are subject to HIPAA regulations- think twice before sending off that marketing email blast to your customers. If your emails contain ePHI, stop and make sure you are using a HIPAA-compliant email marketing platform before sending.

Not all email marketing platforms were designed with HIPAA compliance in mind. In fact, it can be difficult to figure out which vendors will allow you to send HIPAA-compliant emails on their platforms. We created this list of five questions to help you screen potential vendors for compliance.

hipaa compliant email marketing

1.    Is your email marketing platform HIPAA-compliant and HITRUST certified?

It’s a simple question, but if the vendor does not mention anything about HIPAA or HITRUST certification on their website, it’s a good indicator that they are not secure enough to be compliant. As you probably know, HIPAA regulations can be onerous, and many companies do not have the time, expertise, or desire to update their technology. On the other hand, if they have taken the time and spent the money to invest in the serious security steps needed for HIPAA compliance, you should be able to find something about it in their marketing.

2.    Will the vendor sign a Business Associate Agreement?

If you are sharing ePHI with a vendor (including lists of patient names and email addresses), you must have a BAA in place that outlines their responsibilities to protect your ePHI. If a vendor will not sign a BAA with you, it is an obvious sign that you cannot use their platform for HIPAA-compliant email marketing.

However, even if a vendor will sign a BAA, it does not mean that you can use their platform and comply with HIPAA. Read the fine print! Some companies have very restrictive BAAs that severely limit the functionality of the platform and prevent you from sending emails. We call these vendors “quasi” compliant. The only comply with HIPAA, if you abide by strict rules that prevent you from actually using their solution.

For an example, take Constant Contact. They will sign a BAA. However, they explicit state in their BAA that you:

“Should not use our systems for transmitting highly sensitive PHI (for example: mental health, substance abuse, or HIV information). Our application was not built for electronic medical records (EMR). If you have such information to send, please do not use Constant Contact.”

Constant Contact does not encrypt outbound emails, making it a poor choice for a HIPAA-compliant email marketing vendor. Depending on your email use cases, you could be unable to send any emails on their platform. Even worse, if you mistakenly send emails that contain ePHI you will be held liable for violating HIPAA, not Constant Contact, because you violated the terms of the BAA.

3.    Does the email marketing platform protect data at rest and in transit?

Encryption is an addressable standard as part of the HIPAA Security Rule. Encryption is highly recommended to protect ePHI in all digital communications.  Many email marketing platforms have adopted encryption methods that are secure enough to protect ePHI while it remains in their systems. However, that’s not enough to comply with HIPAA. You should specifically ask about their ability to encrypt outbound emails. Data in transit is extremely vulnerable to malicious actors, and therefore you need to encryption to protect emails containing ePHI. If a vendor does not provide encryption for outbound marketing emails then you should not consider using them.

4.    How does the email marketing platform encrypt emails?

If a vendor says that they do encrypt outgoing messages, it’s important to consider these additional questions.

  • How are they encrypting those emails?
  • Do the encryption methods match your email use cases?

As a marketer, you want your emails to directly reach the recipient with as little friction as possible. If the recipient has to login to another platform to read the email, it’s unlikely to be read. A good HIPAA-compliant email marketing platform will use TLS encryption to send marketing messages directly to inboxes that support it. Emails sent with TLS encryption appear just like any other message directly in the recipient’s inbox.

However, there may be scenarios when you need to use more secure encryption methods. We recommend finding an email marketing vendor that is flexible and will let you select the right method of encryption for any type of message. For example, you may want to use a portal-based encryption method to send highly sensitive messages. Either way, make sure your vendor can support your needs with the right type of email encryption.

5.    Does the platform allow you to send ePHI in the body of your emails?

Finally, the most important question to ask is: can I include highly sensitive patient information in an email? If you cannot, you can’t use the full power of the email marketing platform to create targeted, personalized and relevant messages. At best, you can only send generic office newsletters. If you want to create the types of marketing emails that will drive ROI and improve patient engagement, utilize your patient data for personalization and segmentation.

HIPAA-Compliant Email Marketing Platforms

LuxSci’s Secure Marketing platform was built from the ground up with HIPAA compliance in mind. If you would like to learn more about how to create compliant email marketing campaigns utilizing ePHI, please let us know.

 

 

Business Associate Agreement: Explained

Monday, October 26th, 2020

If your organization collects, stores or processes electronic protected health information (ePHI) it will need a clear understanding of business associate agreements (BAAs). This also applies to businesses that process ePHI on behalf of other organizations.

Business Associate Agreements

Each business associate agreement stipulates how a company will share its ePHI with the respective business associate, and where the responsibilities lie. Unless your organization is a rare breed that has its own web hosting, email service, lawyers, accountants and every other aspect of its business in-house, then it needs to have these agreements in place with every provider that it shares ePHI with.

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Is Skype HIPAA Compliant? If not, what is?

Saturday, May 9th, 2020

In recent times we have seen a huge push toward telehealth, so many are wondering, “Is Skype HIPAA compliant?” While Skype is a practical tool that many people have access to, it’s important to consider any regulatory obligations you need to meet before you use it.

If your business collects, stores, transmits or processes electronic protected health information (ePHI), then it is subject to HIPAA regulations. Organizations that process ePHI on behalf of other parties also need to stick within the rules, otherwise they may face heavy fines.

Regardless of whether your organization provides health services through video or it uses video platforms to process ePHI in any other way, it needs to make sure it is using software that abides by the regulations.

Wondering, “Is Skype HIPAA compliant?” is a good starting point, but there are several things to consider before you commit to a video conferencing service.

Do You Need a BAA to Make Skype HIPAA Compliant?

A business associates agreement (BAA) is a contract between your organization and any others that process its data. In essence, these agreements outline how ePHI will be used, what control measures will be in place, and where the responsibilities lie between the two parties.

BAAs are absolutely necessary for HIPAA compliance. Even if your organization and its partner share ePHI with every control and security mechanism imaginable, as well as following all other aspects of the regulations, it would still be violating HIPAA if a signed BAA was not in place.

If your organization is going to be sharing ePHI over a video service, then it needs to be HIPAA-compliant.* However, the only way that it can be HIPAA compliant is if a BAA is in place.

Is Only the Business Version of Skype HIPAA Compliant?

Skype comes in several different versions, but the basic, consumer oriented one is not HIPAA compliant. The only type that offers BAAs and which could be made HIPAA compliant is Skype for Business, which is one of Microsoft Office’s business communication tools.  Note that “Skype for Business” is a completely different service than consumer Skype. 

However, it’s also worth noting that Skype for Business is currently being phased out in favor of Microsoft Teams. If you don’t already have a supported version of Skype for Business, you should look for HIPAA-compliant alternatives instead. Support for Skype for Business Online ends in 2021, while support for Skype for Business Server will be extended until 2025.

With this in mind, it’s probably not worthwhile pursuing any version of Skype for HIPAA compliance. If you use the basic version of Skype, you will be violating the regulations, and even if you can get Microsoft to sign a Skype for Business BAA, you may have to switch your software in 2021 anyway.

HIPAA-Compliant Alternatives to Skype

Considering that Skype for Business doesn’t have much time left and that it is not even the same as “regular Skype,” your organization will be better off finding a HIPAA-compliant alternative. One option is LuxSci’s SecureVideo, which was designed specifically to make it easy to stay within the regulations.

SecureVideo was developed from the ground up with HIPAA compliance in mind, ensuring that it became a practical video calling service that made security and compliance simple. The Zoom for Healthcare-based platform is great for telemedicine and other forms of sharing ePHI.

SecureVideo includes handy features like screen-sharing, file-sharing and virtual clinics, with a capacity of up to 100 participants. This makes LuxSci’s SecureVideo a convenient and compliant alternative to Skype.

 

* During the Covid-19 pandemic, HHS has waived responsibility for breaches through non-compliant video conferencing services, like Skype.  So, while Skype may not be compliant, it is OK to use during the pandemic.  However, as the pandemic subsides and this waiver is lifted, you should have transitioned to a service that is actually HIPAA compliant.

Is Amazon Simple Email Service (SES) HIPAA Compliant?

Thursday, March 19th, 2020

Because Amazon Web Services (AWS) is very inexpensive, very well known, and offers “HIPAA-compliant” solutions to some degree, we are often asked if, and to what degree, Amazon Simple Email Service (SES) is HIPAA compliant. AWS is a big player offering countless services on which companies can build and/or host applications and infrastructures. One of the myriad of services provided by Amazon is their “Simple Email Service” (AWS SES for short).  Organizations are very interested in determining if the services offered are appropriate for their use cases and if use of specific Amazon services will leave them non-compliant or at risk.  Indeed, the larger the organization, the more concern we encounter.

 

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Google Apps HIPAA Compliance Gotchas: Email encryption not included and higher price

Wednesday, October 8th, 2014

There has been a lot of hype about Google offering a Business Associate Agreement to paid Google Apps customers who must abide by HIPAA regulations.  Those who are familiar with Google may be under the incorrect assumption that simply signing up for Google Apps will solve all their HIPAA compliance challenges.  This seems to be increasingly less likely as of October, 2014.

Myths and hidden costs pervade this equation. If a HIPAA-aspiring entity isn’t fully educated about the finer details of the compliance process, they could end up paying very large amounts of money for Google services and still be non-compliant. Here we discuss some misconceptions about Google services as they apply to HIPAA to help you avoid the pitfalls of non-compliance.

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