Medical Marketing & HIPAA

October 12, 2022
Just as with any other business or industry, businesses in the healthcare and medical industry also use marketing. However, since healthcare businesses have to comply with HIPAA regulations, the requirements for their marketing campaigns can be a bit more complicated.

What is HIPAA's take on Medical Marketing?

Are you having trouble putting up a HIPAA-compliant healthcare marketing strategy? You're not the only one who feels this way. Healthcare has lagged behind other industries in adopting current digital marketing methods due to the wide-ranging maze of rules — such as HIPAA compliance for patient data protection.

Many healthcare firms continue with traditional marketing channels like TV, radio, and print advertisements rather than managing these hurdles, missing out on the digital potential to communicate their marketing message directly to the correct person. Others make the mistake of adopting off-the-shelf marketing tools, which might result in HIPAA violations.

There's a lot to think about. We'll look at the impact of HIPAA on medical marketing and how you can keep compliant with this rule in this fast tutorial.

Understanding the Core of HIPAA

HIPAA, the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act is federal legislation that mandates the development of national standards to prevent sensitive patient health information from being released without the patient's consent or knowledge. Basically, the core function of this law is to protect patient's protected health information or PHI. Medical facilities and those that deal with medical information both offline and online and subject to HIPAA compliance.

HIPAA’s Stance on Medical Marketing

Individuals have a significant choice over how their protected health information is used and shared for marketing purposes under the HIPAA Privacy Rule. The Rule requires an individual's written agreement before their protected health information can be used or disclosed for marketing purposes, with a few exceptions. The Rule differentiates commercial communications from communications regarding goods and services that are required for providing health care in order to avoid interfering with fundamental healthcare duties.

The Privacy Rule addresses the use and disclosure of protected health information for marketing purposes by defining what constitutes "marketing" under the Rule, excluding certain treatment or healthcare operations activities from that definition, and requiring individual authorization for all uses or disclosures of protected health information for marketing purposes, with a few exceptions.

According to the Privacy Rule, "marketing" is defined as making a message about a product or service that encourages recipients to buy or use the product or service. In general, if the communication involves marketing tactics or language, the covered company must first get an individual's permission before proceeding. There are a few deviations to this definition of marketing, which are explored further below. The following are some examples of marketing messages that require prior authorization:

  • When a hospital communicates with past patients about a cardiac institution that is not affiliated with the hospital and can give a baseline EKG for $75, the contact is not intended to provide medical recommendations.
  • A message from a health insurer marketing the same company's home and casualty insurance policy.

In some cases, marketing authorizations are not required under HIPAA. For example, a hospital may provide new moms a complimentary bag of formula and other baby supplies as they leave the maternity ward, or an insurance agent may offer a health insurance policy in person to a customer before moving on to promote a life insurance policy.

How to Stay Compliant with HIPAA in Medical Marketing

The HIPAA marketing rules and standards must be followed. The procedures below will help you guarantee that your marketing is HIPAA compliant and adheres to a HIPAA marketing policy.

Be Mindful of Your Social Media Practices

Don't make advertising or postings that contain patient information or PHI of any type, including names, photographs, treatment information, or anything that could be used to identify a patient unless you have the patient's full consent.

Allowing staff members to take images within the practice is also prohibited if PHI, including as papers, fax sheets, print-outs, patients, or computer displays, may be seen. Create HIPAA marketing rules and procedures for workers' usage of social media, including regulatory requirements and restrictions on what they may and cannot post.

Be Smart About What Information is Included in Your Email Campaigns

Without gaining specific consent from the patients concerned, do not produce emails or email campaigns that contain patient information or PHI of any type. If you're going to employ a third-party email marketing company, be sure they're also HIPAA compliant. All suppliers, including marketing agencies, must sign legal business associate agreements (BAAs).

Encrypt every email sent to patients that contains PHI of any kind (even including name or email address). Emails and any other electronic transfers must be encrypted end-to-end, which means that only the sender and receiver have access to the contents of the email. Offsite backup facilities must also be used for any servers that hold emails or email data containing PHI. Before sending emails including any PHI to patients, get their explicit permission. There are a lot of requirements and risks associated with using email in a HIPAA compliant manner, find out more details about this here.

Conduct a Compliance Audit of Your Marketing Website

Any information collected via a website must be encrypted. In addition to any contact forms, this includes web forms and appointment requests. Client Relationship Management (CRM) software that is HIPAA compliant is frequently paired with HIPAA compliant online forms. Your CRM must have sufficient controls in place to keep PHI secure, in addition to encrypting data. HIPAA compliant CRMs and providers must sign legal business associate agreements.

Data from websites holding sensitive personal information should be kept on an encrypted server with off-site backup. Implement a HIPAA privacy policy on the website to make patients informed about your efforts to keep any data you gather safe.

Consider Your Traditional Marketing Channels

Because conventional marketing mediums like radio, TV, and print are mass marketing strategies, being HIPAA compliant is far more simple. This means that in order to reach a broad audience, the marketing messages are highly vague. They are not sufficiently specialized to allow PHI to be used to segment and give a personalized experience. Because of worries about HIPAA and securing patient information, healthcare marketers have been cautious to employ even the most basic digital marketing methods.

Traditional marketing has its place in the marketing mix, but cutting through the clutter demands intelligent digital marketing methods, especially when customers gain more control over their lives in other ways.

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