As a psychologist, Dr. Sturgeon Freitas follows professional standards that require her to keep patient information confidential. In addition to these standards, she is also subject to the federal government's HIPAA laws. Among other things, these laws require that any protected health information she sends over a public network (like the Internet) be encrypted so it cannot be read in transit by third parties. Any information revealed in confidence as part of a session with Dr. Sturgeon Freitas is covered by these rules in addition to her professional obligation to ensure confidentiality.
E-mail exchanges are generally not encrypted by default. Third parties like Internet service providers and free e-mail hosting companies (e.g. Yahoo!, Google, Hotmail, etc.) can and do read e-mails in transit routinely. Mostly what this means is that machines scan users' e-mails looking for keywords, and the results of these scans are used for targeting advertising at the users of the e-mail accounts. There are, however, no guarantees that human beings aren't reading e-mails for other purposes, and even targeted advertising can inadvertently imply confidential information.
What this means for Dr. Sturgeon Freitas' patients is that e-mail exchanges with her are governed by federal laws that make them difficult to conduct. In most situations, she is forbidden by law from discussing confidential information in an e-mail exchange. If you try to discuss your treatment with Dr. Sturgeon Freitas via e-mail and she says she is unable to respond without encryption, please understand that she is simply complying with federal law for your own protection.
With that said, it is possible to set up encryption in e-mail to allow for e-mail exchanges that comply with federal law and professional standards. Setting up these tools can be tricky, but once they are in place encrypted e-mail exchanges can be as easy to conduct as unencrypted ones.
Here are instructions for using Mozilla Thunderbird as an e-mail client for encrypted e-mail on a Windows-based computer. All of the software required for this procedure (except for Windows, of course) is free of cost. These instructions can be modified for other operating systems as well, as all the required tools are available on other operating systems like Apple's OS X and the many Linux distributions. Please note that other tools can be used instead, including Microsoft's Outlook, but their installation and configuration is outside the scope of this document.
These instructions require an e-mail account that can be accessed through a traditional mail client. Many popular free e-mail hosting sites, like Yahoo! Mail, do not allow standard e-mail clients to access their services. Google's free e-mail service, Gmail, does allow standard e-mail clients and does work with Thunderbird. You can also use a Firefox browser extension to use encryption in Gmail through the web interface. If your e-mail account won't work with encryption, you might want to open a Gmail account before proceeding.
Verify that Thunderbird is working correctly with your e-mail account before proceeding to the next step.
Go to the download page for GNU Privacy Guard (GPG), an implementation of OpenPGP that actually does the work of encrypting and decrypting your e-mails. Find the link for downloading the Windows installer and click it. Once the installer is downloaded, run it with all the default options.
If you want to e-mail Dr. Sturgeon Freitas anything you would want kept confidential, you are strongly advised to use e-mail encryption. Follow these instructions to write her securely. It is assumed you have Thunderbird installed and configured as described above.
Dr. Sturgeon Freitas can send you encrypted e-mails, but only if she has your public key. Follow these instructions to send your public key to her.