One of the most vulnerable areas in any industry, including healthcare, that is open to cyberattacks is email. If email is compromised, data breaches could be devastating, potentially even resulting in trouble with the federal government. Understanding the meaning and importance of HIPAA is of particular importance in ensuring that patient privacy and rights remain intact, as well as in avoiding meaningful fines. Given that unauthorized access to, or disclosure of, Patient Health Information (PHI) from email phishing cyberattacks comprise many HIPAA violations, taking measures to maintain a powerful cybersecurity system is essential for any medical practice.

Physicians must also bear in mind that cybersecurity can be compromised without a data breach. For instance, a seemingly harmless email sent in plain text from a medical practice may, unbeknownst to the practice, be a HIPAA violation. Therefore, having cybersecurity safeguards in place offers protection against hackers via email encryption, which isolates the ability to open an email solely for the intended recipient.

HIPAA stipulates that email encryption must be put in place if it is an essential part of managing PHI risk, especially if PHI is being sent electronically. For practices who choose to opt out of encryption, HIPAA requires documentation of this decision and implementation of an alternate method to protect PHI. However, the point is mute, as there is no better cybersecurity measure against email hacking than encryption. HIPAA compliance requires an email encryption strategy that protects all outgoing emails.

Healthcare professionals frequently fall victim to malware-containing emails. Physicians are best suited both choosing cybersecurity systems that are user-friendly and offering continual employee cybersecurity training, as human error leads to 95% of data breaches. Just one employee clicking on a malware link or opening a malware attachment can severely compromise a medical practice’s cybersecurity. Training employees on strategies like safely using electronic devices and identifying malicious emails is invaluable for any practice.

Hackers are quite resourceful in thinking of new ways to permeate cybersecurity measures, so regular training on the latest security issues and how to prevent them is essential. Given that cybercriminals prey on weak inbound email security and human error, taking measures to secure inbound emails, though not required for HIPAA compliancy, is a smart strategy for any healthcare practice. Doing so, for example, can protect employees from getting locked out of their network and being vulnerable to ransom demands in exchange for stolen data.