Health Information Management

Are confidentiality disclaimers appended to the bottom of e-mail an effective way for our organization to comply with HIPAA?

HIM-HIPAA Insider, July 24, 2006

The confidentiality notices that are appended to e-mail (and often to confidential faxes) do not absolve you of liability if you send the information to the wrong party. Such notices are also not required by the privacy or security rules.

What the confidentiality notices do provide, however, is added legal protection. They demonstrate that you have made an effort to communicate to the appropriate party and, if the e-mail or fax is somehow sent to an inappropriate third party, you have made an effort to communicate the confidential nature of the e-mail or fax, generally with instructions to contact the sender and destroy the e-mail or fax.

As it is not possible to fully protect against sending data to the wrong person, these confidentiality notices cannot be your only protection. Address this risk in a policy and procedure (e.g., the person sending the e-mail or fax must verify the e-mail address or fax number before sending the confidential information).

Editor's note: Chris Apgar, president of Portland, OR-based Apgar & Associates, LLC, answered this question. This is not legal advice. Consult your attorney for legal matters.

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