How HIPAA and Marketing Intersect: Social Media, Websites, and Email Marketing

Whether you’re a marketing firm looking to break into health care, or a practitioner looking to start an email marketing campaign, understanding HIPAA compliant marketing is absolutely essential to finding success in this increasingly digital age.

The HIPAA Rules set specific regulatory standards that must be upheld during the marketing process. HIPAA marketing standards should form the backbone of any health care marketing effort.

The reason HIPAA marketing standards can be so sensitive is because of the safeguards that must be in place to keep protected health information (PHI) private and secure. PHI is any demographic information that can be used to identify a patient. Common examples of PHI include: name, date of birth, address, phone number, insurance ID number, Social Security number, or full facial photographs, to name a few.

Because of HIPAA Rules regarding the use and disclosure of PHI, health care marketing efforts must adhere to HIPAA marketing standards in order to ensure that no patients’ PHI is being used in your marketing efforts that could impact the integrity of the PHI in question.

So how do you know what HIPAA compliant marketing entails? How can you safely develop your health care marketing strategy without putting sensitive patient data at risk?

Understanding HIPAA and Marketing

The HIPAA Privacy Rule defines marketing as “a communication about a product or service that encourages recipients of the communication to purchase or use the product or service.” This definition applies to outbound marketing–the kind that an organization might send to potential patients or clients to.

HIPAA-beholden organizations or marketing firms contracted by a health care organization must ensure that ANY patient information used in a marketing campaign has been authorized by the patient ahead of time. Authorization for uses and disclosures is a key component of any effective HIPAA compliance program. There are a number of other standards regarding Authorization in the HIPAA Privacy Rule as well, aside from marketing, which all health care professionals should be aware of. For a full list of necessary authorizations, see 45 CFR 164.508.

The HIPAA Privacy Rule also defines marketing as “an arrangement between a covered entity and any other entity whereby the covered entity discloses protected health information to the other entity, in exchange for direct or indirect remuneration, for the other entity or its affiliate to make a communication about its own product or service that encourages recipients of the communication to purchase or use that product or service.”

This is where the relationship between a third party health care marketing firm and HIPAA-beholden entity comes in. If the names of any patients are exchanged between a health care provider and a health care marketing firm, patients must give explicit authorization.

The thing to remember about these HIPAA marketing standards is that, ultimately, they help your organization protect patient health data and protect against HIPAA violations and fines. And with all this in mind, there are ways that your business can market without putting patients’ privacy at risk. Below, we discuss a few steps you can take right now to start your HIPAA compliant health care marketing program.

HIPAA Marketing for Your Business

The following are steps you can take to ensure that your marketing is HIPAA compliant.

HIPAA Social Media

  • Don’t create ads or posts using patient information or PHI of any kind (including names, photos, or treatment information) without obtaining explicit permission from the patients involved.
  • Don’t allow staff members to take photos within the practice if there is the potential that PHI (such as documents, fax sheets, print-outs, or computer screens) will be visible.
  • Create policies and procedures for social media use by employees, capturing the necessary regulatory standards, with limitations on what they can and cannot post.

HIPAA Complaint Email Marketing

  • Don’t create emails or email campaigns using patient information or PHI of any kind without obtaining explicit permission from the patients involved.
  • If you use a third-party email marketing firm, ensure that they are HIPAA compliant. Legal Business Associate Agreements (BAAs) must be executed with all vendors, including marketing firms.
  • Encrypt ANY email sent to patients containing any type of PHI (even including name or email address). Emails and any electronic transmissions must be end-to-end encrypted, which means that only the sender and recipient have access to the email’s contents. Additionally, any servers that store emails or email data containing PHI must be encrypted with off-site back-up.
  • Receive explicit authorization from patients before sending them emails. Even if a practice collects email as part of patient registration, they still need to gain explicit authorization before sending any emails.

HIPAA Compliant Websites and Web Hosting

  • Any data gathered on a website must be encrypted. This includes web forms and appointment requests, in addition to any contact forms. HIPAA compliant web forms are commonly matched with HIPAA compliant Client Relationship Management (CRM) software. In addition to encrypting data, your HIPAA CRM must have proper safeguards in place to keep PHI secure. Providers must execute legal business associate agreements with their HIPAA CRMs.
  • Website data containing sensitive PHI should be stored on an encrypted server with off-site back-up.
  • Implement a HIPAA privacy policy on the website to ensure patients are up-to-date with efforts to keep any collected data safe.

Using a HIPAA Tool to Address HIPAA Marketing

Finding an effective HIPAA tool can help organizations of any size, from health care marketing firms to health care providers, implement an effective compliance solution.

Addressing the full extent of the federal HIPAA regulation will necessarily include HIPAA marketing standards–allowing your company to protect PHI, while marketing your services to attract new business.

Compliancy Group gives health care professionals a total HIPAA compliance solution with our HIPAA tool, The Guard®. The Guard is a web-based HIPAA compliance solution, built by former auditors to help simplify compliance.

Compliancy Group’s team of expert Compliance Coaches® field questions and guide users through the implementation process, taking the stress out of managing compliance. The Guard is built to address the full extent of HIPAA regulation, including all HIPAA marketing standards and HIPAA social media policies.

With The Guard, health care professionals can focus on running their business while keeping their data protected and secure.

Find out more about how Compliancy Group and the HIPAA Seal of Compliance® can help simplify your HIPAA compliance today!

2018-06-25T17:08:58+00:00 March 8th, 2018|