HIPAA Compliance and Content Marketing: How To Keep Safe
The right healthcare content marketing strategy builds trust. It showcases your expertise, increases credibility, and establishes authority and leadership.
It also must comply with strict industry regulations, especially the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act of 1996 (HIPAA). This article lays out the best ideas. It also tackles the following:
- What personal health information (PHI) means
- Consequences of violating HIPAA rules
How do you protect yourself and your audience when doing online content marketing? Read below for the answers!
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What Is PHI?
PHI stands for protected health information. It is any individually identifiable health data that people can link back to a specific patient. These are sensitive private details such as your Social Security and credit card numbers.
Examples are the following:
- Names, addresses, birthdates, age, and ethnicity
- Medical records, clinical notes, medical histories, and test results
- X-rays, MRIs, and other diagnostic images
- Information about a patient’s healthcare visit such as the date, department, practitioner seen, and prescriptions
- Billing records and health insurance details
- Any photo, video, or other media that identifies the patient
- Biometric identifiers, such as fingerprints or voiceprints
- Any unique code, number, or identifier assigned to track a patient’s care or billing
HIPAA’s primary purpose is to protect PHI to preserve patient privacy and security. In particular, the act requires organizations to do the following:
- Limit uses and disclosures of PHI to only permitted reasons, such as treatment, payment, and healthcare operations.
- Implement physical, administrative, and technical safeguards, such as encryption, to secure PHI.
- Identify and assess potential risks and vulnerabilities to PHI.
- Enter into business associate agreements (BAAs) with vendors that handle PHI.
- Report data breaches affecting 500 or more patients to the US Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) within 60 days from the breach’s discovery.
- Notify patients of any unauthorized access, use, or disclosure of their PHI.
Violating HIPAA rules carries hefty penalties, depending on the culpability level. For every violation category, the maximum financial penalty for willful neglect of the rules is around $1.5 million annually.
Meanwhile, anyone caught sharing, transferring, and selling PHI for commercial or personal gain or malicious harm is liable to pay up to $250,000 and spend up to 10 years in prison.
HIPAA violations also result in other problems besides fines:
- Privacy breaches and violations often make the news, damaging a company’s reputation with customers and partners.
- They make your business susceptible to expensive class action lawsuits.
- When violations occur, businesses should take corrective action and enhance compliance programs. These improvement costs, such as staff training, are expensive and decrease productivity.
- The government might exclude you from participating in federal healthcare programs.
- You lose a competitive advantage.
Managing PHI is both an ethical obligation and a legal necessity under HIPAA. It applies to medical records and billing systems and to content marketing materials often intended for public viewing.
Digital Authority Partners (DAP) has shared an extensive discussion about HIPAA. This blog post expands on some strategies and concepts.
Content Marketing and HIPAA
Digital marketing exposes healthcare organizations to greater HIPAA compliance risks as they create content to attract and engage patients. Social media marketing provides ample opportunities for improper sharing of PHI.
For example, the HHS and the Office for Civil Rights settled with a New Jersey psychiatrist after the therapist disclosed the PHI of four patients in response to a negative Google review. Specifically, the health provider shared the patients’ diagnoses and treatments to dispute the complaint.
If you do it without patient consent and knowledge, you also violate the rules whenever you post PHI, including videos and images.
How do you balance strategic healthcare content marketing and HIPAA compliance? Here are three tips:
1. Build a Strong HIPAA Foundation
From goal setting to healthcare digital marketing, your organization should live and breathe HIPAA. It begins with a relevant, updated HIPAA policy:
- Dig deep into HIPAA. Update yourself with the latest rules and changes. Know the requirements and identify key persons to oversee the act’s and the policy’s implementation.
- Identify all the PHIs your organization creates, receives, maintains, or transmits. This includes electronic and paper records.
- Identify potential vulnerabilities or risks to protected data. Assess both physical and technical systems.
- Outline the permitted data uses, storage procedures, transmission safeguards, and other access controls. Define staff roles and training requirements.
- Conduct comprehensive HIPAA training on the new policy and have employees sign acknowledgments. Update training periodically.
- If using third-party vendors, issue BAAs to ensure HIPAA compliance.
- Create a plan for responding to any potential HIPAA breaches, including notifications.
- Conduct periodic audits across the organization to identify any issues or needed improvements. Update policies as required.
Many studies show that more than 80% of data breaches and insecurities are inside jobs. These could be deliberate, such as someone stealing information, or accidental.
Either way, the problem—and the solution—is you. Draft that HIPAA policy and refer to it in every phase of your healthcare content marketing plan.
2. Control PHI at the Source
As healthcare organizations scale or grow, most rely on innovations to streamline operations and data handling. One of the popular tools is customer data platforms (CDPs), which offer the following benefits:
- Centralizing patient data from systems, such as electronic health records, billing, and scheduling
- Improving care coordination across multidisciplinary teams and facilities
- Identifying care gaps
- Monitoring population health
- Incorporating third-party data for a more holistic view of the patient’s journey
- Automating compliance reports
- Improving loyalty through personalized communication and service
- Providing campaign insights that help optimize patient engagement
Despite their massive advantages, CDPs sometimes make your organization susceptible to HIPAA violations.
For example, these platforms consolidate a large volume of PHI. These are vulnerable to breaches. In addition, broad data access settings often result in PHI being shared with employees, teams, or third parties that do not need access for their roles.
Minimize the legal risks and improve HIPAA compliance with these ideas:
- Pick a HIPAA-compliant CDP. Usually, these are platforms designed specifically for healthcare businesses.
- Remove or redact all identifiable patient information from the data housed in the CDP.
- Only allow access to deidentified, aggregated data for content marketing purposes.
- Obtain patient consent and provide full disclosure. Inform them how you plan to use their information. Answer other questions. Who has access to this information? When and where do you want to use it? Why do you collect it?
- Create formal, documented policies governing appropriate versus inappropriate CDP use cases.
- Educate all CDP users on HIPAA regulations, especially around impermissible disclosures.
- Perform routine CDP audits to catch any potential breaches or misuse.
- Prohibit attempts to reidentify patients based on data patterns or cross-referencing other sources.
- Have privacy staff review any data-driven content marketing pieces before publication to avoid accidental PHI leaks.
3. Be Careful When Running Social Media Marketing Ads
About 95% of patients worry about data breaches affecting their medical records. However, 81% also incorrectly believe that PHI gathered by digital health apps is HIPAA-protected.
In fact, many healthcare organizations assume that most social media sites, such as Facebook, and analytics platforms, such as Google Analytics, are HIPAA-compliant. They are not. They do not sign BAAs, so you cannot share PHI with them.
This situation becomes problematic when you want to run ads and track your performance. Suppose you are a dermatology clinic, and someone with acne visits your page. Your embedded tracker collects information, which you then use to run a targeted ad: a special introductory offer to your acne treatment package.
The tools make your campaign more efficient and effective but also cause you to violate HIPAA.
Use the tips below to help you run compliant healthcare PPC ads:
- Avoid using tracking technologies, such as pixels, when running ad campaigns.
- Use broad-targeting criteria. Instead of targeting people who have searched for specific medical conditions, opt for those who have looked for general health and wellness topics.
- Perform regular ad campaign reviews.
- Use a tag management system to manage your tracking pixels and other marketing tags. It gives you more control over the information sent to ad networks.
- Consider using contextual targeting instead of remarketing. It lets you target your ads based on the website content people visit.
- Use a HIPAA-compliant email marketing platform to reach your existing patients and subscribers.
The best healthcare content marketing delicately balances truthfulness, persuasiveness, and safety. It keeps industry regulations, such as HIPAA, in mind.
The tips above help you develop compliant content that builds patient trust and a positive brand. However, working with a team that knows HIPAA inside and out is equally essential.
Digital Authority Partners (DAP) is a content marketing agency specializing in healthcare. We help strengthen your brand reputation and patient relationships while safeguarding PHI with strict data privacy protocols.
Contact us today to learn more about our HIPAA-compliant content marketing strategy.
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