Privacy is a large concern when it comes to online advertising and creating and sharing content in virtually any industry, but it’s especially prominent when marketing within the healthcare sector. On top of dealing with Google’s robust advertising policies, you as a healthcare marketer must also fully understand HIPAA regulations to ensure your ads A. get approved and B. reach the right audience.
The added security measure of HIPAA compliance is a necessary one, but it can bring about some nuances as you attempt to form and execute a solid marketing plan. While HIPAA’s compliance policies are strict, there are endless (white hat) marketing tactics that you can employ in your everyday strategies, so you can reach your customers, protect their data, and improve your advertising methods as a whole.
This article will explore how HIPAA affects marketing plans for all types of businesses that make up the healthcare industry. Specifically, we’ll be talking about the four key areas you should focus on to improve your digital business activities.
While your ultimate goal for your marketing strategies will be to grow your business, it’s important to keep your customers’ wants and needs as your main priority while creating HIPAA-compliant advertisements, social posts, emails, and website content.
That’s what we’ll be talking about here—HIPAA best practices to ensure you’re protecting patient privacy on these four common channels:
- Search engines
- Social media
But First, A Bit More About HIPAA
Before we dive into learning about the different areas where you can practice compliant marketing, let’s briefly talk about HIPAA.
Congress passed the Health Information Portability and Accountability Act (HIPAA) in 1966, which “provides data privacy and security provisions for safeguarding medical information.” In layman’s terms, HIPAA gives people control over how their health information can be used by organizations in their marketing and any other aspect of their business.
Additionally, under HIPAA regulations, patients need to express consent before any healthcare providers can market products or services to them that fall outside the realm of their treatment plan. This can be a major roadblock for many businesses, but there are ways to overcome this challenge. More on that later.
Breaking compliance regulations will cost you in more ways than one. For starters, you’ll be stuck paying atrocious amounts in penalties and can even face jail time. You also risk losing credibility as an honest and trustworthy provider, which will hurt your organization in the long run.
Once you break trust with your clientele, it can be challenging, if not impossible, to get it back. Plus, with technology being so integral in our lives, any negative information about your business—especially something as important as privacy non-compliance—will spread like wildfire.
There are plenty more specifics that make up HIPAA, many of which you may already be familiar with as a healthcare professional. So, to save you time, we’ll leave it at these essential facets of the bill and move on to what you can do in different aspects of your strategies to work within the confines of HIPAA regulations while improving your business.
Let’s dive in.
Use HIPAA-Compliant Marketing and Analysis Tools
When it comes to advertising via search engines, encrypting any and all marketing and analytics tools is a must. If you outsource your marketing, be sure to work with HIPAA-compliant third-party vendors.
There are a variety of different marketing and analytics tools you can use, but just be sure to do your research to ensure they fall within HIPAA compliance regulations. To be compliant, a marketing technology tool must have business associate agreements (BAAs) with the HIPAA-covered entity. Many marketing technologies (such as HubSpot, Google Analytics, Facebook) will not sign BAAs and, thus, aren’t compliant with HIPAA.
We recommend looking for software that is designed for organizations within the healthcare industry. They’re more likely to sign BAAs and understand how to protect personal health information (PHI).
Protect Patient Data on Social Media
It’s 2022, which means it is no secret that the internet plays a huge role in advertising for businesses. Even for industries as sensitive and private as healthcare, people are turning to the internet and social media for answers to their questions about health information, practices, and more.
The good thing about social media is it allows organizations to engage with their patients on a more personal level. That said, it is still important to pay close attention to privacy policies and HIPAA regulations as you are communicating through these avenues.
As social media platforms have restricted access to third-party data, many marketers have turned to building advertising audiences using their customer lists. This is permissible in some industries but not in healthcare. Do not upload any customer lists to advertising platforms, and do not build a lookalike audience using customer lists or data.
You’ll also want to watch what you’re sharing on social. You should create a solid social media strategy with strict regulations on what can and cannot be posted. To reinforce these rules, hold routine training sessions to ensure your team is up to date on best practices. This also gives them a safe space to ask questions or for clarification on different policies.
Furthermore, you should consider setting up digital controls that will flag keywords and key phrases that could be flagged as non-compliant with HIPAA policies. Here are two key areas to pay attention to when posting on social media for your business.
Posting to social media is a great way to push information out quickly. When you do utilize social platforms, here are some things to consider. First, never include patient data in any part of your profiles, and don’t collect patient-specific information through social media.
Remember that social media sites are not encrypted, so you should stick to general, health-related information about conditions and your services. You can also share information about events, news, or changes to your business operations and hours. Just remember, never include patient information without their consent!
When posting pictures to social media, using stock imagery or photos taken outside of your offices is the safest way to go. Why? It eliminates any chance of sensitive information accidentally being leaked.
Even if it isn’t in the foreground of an image, confidential information sitting around the office can easily make its way into a picture where it can then be copied and used for fraudulent purposes. Furthermore, be sure no one else in your building is taking pictures freely as these can also pose a serious security breach.
Avoid Sharing Protected Health Information in Email Campaigns
While your emails will go directly to your customers, there are still plenty of regulations you must follow to ensure any data is protected. For starters, be sure to encrypt every email you send. For this to be successful, it’s important to look at not only the email itself but the servers that store emails and any third-party email marketing tools you may use.
It is also crucial that you do not create any campaigns or singular emails that include Protected or Personal Health Information (PHI) without having express permission from the other party. In fact, you should secure written permission for email collection from anyone you want to email, so you don’t run into any issues down the road.
A few examples of PHI include:
- Demographic Information
- Health Information
- Insurance Information
- Medical Histories
- Mental Health Conditions
- Test Results
To play it even safer, veer toward sharing general information about your business, including treatments, offerings, and anything in between, instead of targeting your audience with very specific information.
Be Sure to Encrypt All Website Data
The first step in doing that is ensuring all data gathered on your website is encrypted. This process converts plain text into an encoded format that can only be accessed once decrypted once again. The decryption key itself is private and must be shared with a user, which ensures all data is protected against unauthorized access.
Encrypted data on your website will typically include:
- Web Forms
- Appointment Requests
- Contact Forms
On its own, marketing for your business will be a time-consuming and continuous process. That’s why it’s worth having a compliance team on staff. With these members being involved in your advertising strategies, you are free to focus on the content while they do all the background work.
Learn More About Navigating HIPAA Guidelines and Improving Marketing Strategies
At the end of the day, practicing HIPAA-compliant advertising isn’t just about avoiding strict policies; it’s about continuously gaining and maintaining your customers’ trust in you as their healthcare provider. It’s also about respecting your customers as people and not just consumers.
While healthcare marketing is quite complicated and convoluted when it comes to successful advertising, these best practices will ensure you build a strong and compliant marketing foundation.
As a professional healthcare performance marketing agency, Cardinal Digital Marketing is also available for more hands-on assistance. If you’re unsure if you’re meeting HIPAA standards or are looking to improve your business practices, get in touch with our team to learn about what a partnership with our experts can do for you.