HIPAA message - misdirected e-mails

December 03, 2003

picture disc.HIPAA, the "Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act of 1996," provides federal protection of patient health information. This message is part of UNMC's continuing effort to educate employees about HIPAA. Today's HIPAA message addresses misdirected e-mails.

Question: Can I send e-mails containing PHI (protected health information)?

Answer: Yes, HIPAA permits PHI to be transmitted via e-mail. However, e-mail is a not a totally secure communication method and appropriate care must be taken when utilizing e-mail:

1. Verify recipient's e-mail address prior to transmitting.

  • When sending e-mails, verify you are sending to the correct individual when using the global address listing. Click on "Details" to see the individual's location. Note: If you have a common name and often get other employees' e-mail by mistake, you can add additional information, such as department, phone number, etc. to your details information. Call the UNMC Helpdesk (559-7700) for instructions.

  • b. Even if you do not use the global address listing, you should check. Did you know that when you send an e-mail to "UMNC," it goes to the University of Michigan North Campus, instead of the University of Nebraska Medical Center.

2. Subject lines should not contain patient name.

3. It is highly recommended that the following highly sensitive information NEVER be discussed using e-mail:

  • AIDS diagnosis
  • Alcohol, drug and substance abuse
  • Mental health diagnosis
  • STDs

4. You can add a signature or create special stationery in Notes which will allow you to add the following confidentiality statement as a footer for healthcare provider-patient communication:

  • The University of Nebraska Medical Center E-mail Confidentiality Disclaimer -- The information in this e-mail is privileged and confidential, intended only for the use of the addressee(s) above. Any unauthorized use or disclosure of this information is prohibited. If you have received this e-mail by mistake, please delete it and immediately contact the sender.

For instructions on how to create signatures or stationery, contact the UNMC Helpdesk at 559-7700.

If you're a manager, please ensure all of your employees are informed of the contents of these messages and how it applies to your work area. Some ways of sharing the information include discussions during staff meetings, printing and posting this message or asking your employees if they have any further questions.