How to be sure emailing your physician is safe

Emailing and Medical Information

Should you email your doctor with a question?  With today’s technological advances most people have email, including your doctor.  Maybe you have a question about a medicine you are taking and it is after office hours.  What if you were just at their office and you wanted to email them a log of your blood sugars?  Email might be an easier way to send messages to your doctor, but what about someone else seeing your medical information?

What about HIPAA?

HIPAA (the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act) was passed in 1996.  HIPAA’s main purpose was to encourage the use of electronic transmission for health information, while keeping it secure.  HIPAA was a great start in protecting patient’s private medical information.  There have been a lot more technological advances since then.  One of these advances is the common use of email.  The question is can you email your doctor and know that your information will be kept private?

Emailing Medical Records and HIPAA

NO!  Typical email from Google, Yahoo, Hotmail, etc… is not secure enough to keep your information private.  The reason for this is because it is not only located on your computer and your doctor’s computer.  HIPAA does not allow the use of email for personal health information (PHI).  For an email to get to you it passes through many different servers.  These servers can be accessed by many different people.  There is no security in email.  Not to mention if you email from work.  Any email sent from a work email is fair game to read.  You may not want your employer to read what you discuss with your doctor.

Does your doctor still have paper charts?  If not then you are in luck.  Some doctors that have switched to an EMR (Electronic Medical Record).  This allows them to document all of your medical information securely without the use of paper.  Many of these EMRs have online portals where patients can login.  One common one in the Midwest is MyChart.  MyChart allows patients to log on to their electronic medical record over the internet through a secure username and password.  MyChart also allows the patient to “email” their doctors.  This isn’t an actual email, but a messaging system through a secure connection.  All of the information you put in the message to your doctor will stay private.

When it comes to email and your medical information, just say no.  Emailing personal information about yourself, especially from work, is a bad idea.  Ask your doctor if there is a better way to contact them without sending personal information over email.