Email management for your dental practice

Which email systems should you consider – pros and cons.

clicking on mouseEmail management is quite a thorny issue for dentists and dental practice managers to get to grips with. Legislative and regulatory bodies are quick to tell you that information must be transferred and stored securely but provide little or no guidance on how to achieve this.

Indeed, when it comes to email security, there is no 100% certainty given that there may be some part of the network that isn’t encrypted or under a secure data management regimen. So an element of pragmatism and practicality is usually necessary.

So what types of email systems are dentists currently using and what are the issues to consider?

Free email services

There are plenty of free email services available; GMail, Hotmail, Yahoo, AOL etc and perhaps surprisingly, lots of dentists still use one or more of these. Some even use them for the main practice address. Whilst these services are free and tend to offer a lot of storage space, they have some significant downsides. AOL and Yahoo have been prone to hacking whilst the privacy concerns surrounding GMail and how Google scan your content to serve ads. to your inbox, are equally worrying.

There is also the problem of appearing unprofessional if you emblazon a free email address across your website or use it for business correspondence.

So our guidance would be to think twice before using these services on a professional basis.

Domain hosted email

These are email addresses which come with your website hosting package, local email server or other remotely hosted email service. This the standard way to set up for a small business and different email addresses can be associated with different functions at the dental practice. For example there might be a generic address for the administration team, e.g. reception@trumptondental.co.uk and separate ones for the key personnel as required.

Accessing and sending emails

The email can be collected in one of two main ways – either via a web based control panel of by linking the email system on the remote server with a local email “client”, for example Outlook or the popular free system, Thunderbird. There are numerous to choose from. Many practices use their local IT or dental software guys to look after the integration whereas other have enough expertise in-house to complete the set up. It’s actually quite straightforward.

IMAP versus POP

You may hear these terms used with reference to your email system. Without going into detail, POP is typically used where mail is downloaded and managed within the network at the practice i.e. mail is only left on the server for a limited amount of time. IMAP is used when the client wishes to access mail from multiple devices e.g. a ‘phone as well as desk-top. For an IMAP set up, mail is left on the server and the folder structure there is replicated in the email client at the practice. To use IMAP, you need a lot more storage space on the server than if you use POP protocols.

At Dental Media we provide solutions for both types of email management – please contact us for more details.

Data security

This is an area that many neglect when it comes to setting up and using email. As I mentioned earlier, there is no real 100% secure methodology without deploying some fairly complex techniques which just aren’t practical for the majority. Whilst you can control/encrypt your outbound email connection, you cannot easily control the system which the recipient is using – so their link in the communication journey could be fragile and open to compromise.

Perhaps the best you can do is to risk assess your own procedures and determine which are the best systems to use for various types of correspondence. Additionally, you should ensure your are connecting to your email services via an encrypted connection and that your email data is managed in an ISO 27001 environment – the UK standard for information security management. All of Dental Media’s servers are housed in ISO 27001 datacentres. If you do this, then at least you can demonstrate due diligence if you are challenged. Ultimately though, you do need procedures to govern the way you handle correspondence via email.

NHS mail

Some dental practice may be able to register for a secure NHS email account for exchanging data securely with other account holders. However, you need to remember that sending mail externally of this system may still render it insecure.

Back-ups – a final word

Wherever your emails are being stored, you need to ensure that there is a robust back-up protocol in place. For example, the remotely hosted email operated by Dental Media is backed-up nightly, weekly and again to a secondary off-site location. If you are bring email down to the practice network, you need to make sure you have similar back-up protocols in place; just as you do with your patient data.

Summary

Configuring your dental email systems and the protocols for using them is not trivial, particularly when considering data security. Domain name based emails are considered to be the most professional but ensure that they are being controlled within and ISO27001 regulated environment. Also remember that, no matter how much effort you put into securing your side of the communication network, you cannot easily control how the intended recipient is receiving their mail. So please consider this in your risk assessments.

If you would like more information about the email systems for dentists provided by Dental Media, please call us on 01332 672548.