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Unsecured Email and Patient Communication

Using Email for Patient Communication

Unencrypted email with patients is not something Medical Mutual recommends. However, individuals under the Privacy Rule (45 C.F.R. § 164.522(b)) have the right to request communication by alternative means. H.H.S. states, “a health care provider should accommodate an individual’s request to receive appointment reminders via email, rather than on a postcard, if email is a reasonable, alternative means for that provider to communicate with the patient.”

Suggestions to Mitigate Risk

If a patient requests unsecured email as an option, you should still take certain precautions when using email to avoid unintentional disclosures.

  • Check the email address for accuracy before sending it. Do not rely on an auto-fill option.
  • Send an email alert to the patient for address confirmation before sending the message.
  • Try to limit the amount or type of information disclosed through the unencrypted email.
  • Inform the patient of possible risks of using unencrypted email, such as:
    • Emails can be intercepted during transmission.
    • Unencrypted messages (and any attachments) can be read, and potentially copied and forwarded, by anyone.
    • Unencrypted emails can be easily viewed by someone other than the recipient.
  • Ensure that your responses are professional and appropriate. Use plain language and avoid overfamiliarity.
  • Have a general inbox for email communication with patients to ensure a timely response.
  • Ensure all communication with patients through email is documented in the medical record.

Unsecured email should never be your default unless the patient specifically requests it. Medical Mutual recommends using a patient portal. See our tip Using Patient Portals to Promote Patient Communication for more information.

References: Does the HIPAA Privacy Rule permit health care providers to use e-mail to discuss health issues and treatment with their patients? Accessed on 8/5/2020:

Larson, S. (June 2019). Legal Corner: Using unsecure email—The risks associated with using unencrypted emails to communicate with your patients. American Psychological Association.