How Do You Make Healthcare Email Marketing HIPAA Compliant? (Short Guide)
If a healthcare provider sends marketing emails to patients, these emails must be in compliance with HIPAA regulations. Non-compliance with these rules is a serious offense and one that accounts for more than $1.5 million in fines yearly. These rules are set to safeguard private health information, and health services are fully responsible for complying with the act.
But how can healthcare email marketing stay on the right side of these rules?
What Is the HIPAA Act for Healthcare Email Marketing?
The Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act (HIPAA) was designed to govern the use of patients' electronic health records. Healthcare email marketing is subject to HIPAA, and "marketing" refers to communication that encourages a patient to use a certain product or service in healthcare.
For instance, welcome emails, newsletters, and holiday greetings are some common examples of email marketing. Healthcare services often use these types of communication to help educate patients, remind them of appointments, and inform them of new services, products, or practices they should know about.
If a health service sends out emails to patients, they must abide by HIPAA and take practical steps to avoid violations. Now, we look at some critical requirements that need to be addressed to remain HIPAA-compliant and ensure full transparency with patients.
5 Ways To Keep Emails on the Right Side of HIPAA Compliance
1. Use the Right Vendor for Sending Emails
Most marketing vendors are unsuitable for healthcare email marketing because they do not comply with HIPAA regulations. They may be inexperienced or unknowledgeable about HIPAA. As a result, these vendors will not sign a Business Associate Agreement (BAA) which would rule out the use of protected health information (PHI) in such emails.
This means it's possible to send out generic marketing emails with any vendor but your healthcare service is running a serious risk if these emails include any PHI. This happens (often by accident), like when New York Presbyterian Hospital had to pay more than $2 million for breaching the HIPAA act after failing to secure patients’ permission to be filmed in the hospital.
You may think that’s a one-off, but the federal government and the Office of Civil Rights take HIPAA violations quite seriously.
2. Ensure Authority (Opt-in) Is Acquired From Every Patient
You must have authorization for every individual you send a marketing email to. For example, when asking patients to opt-in to your email list, it's necessary to inform them exactly what content these emails will contain and how often they can expect to receive them.
Healthcare providers should also remind recipients why they opted in and include an option for patients to unsubscribe from future emails. There should be no confusion with any of the above; the idea is to provide a clear and easy way to subscribe/unsubscribe.
3. Make It Easy to Unsubscribe From the Email List
Healthcare email marketing efforts must make it clear to patients that they are signing up for an email list. This stage of the process should also tell them exactly what content they can expect in return for giving you their contact information as well as the frequency of these marketing emails.
As for unsubscribing, make it easy for patients to opt out. Most healthcare providers do this by including an unsubscribe button at the bottom of every email. It's all about transparency. And remember, search engine optimization agencies can gather many insights from the proportions of patients who either sign up or unsubscribe.
4. Know What You Should and Should Not Include
You need to understand what you should and should not send to patients as part of a healthcare email marketing strategy. This is often because emails will not be HIPAA-compliant if you send certain content to patients based on the information you already know about that subset of demographics. It lacks transparency, and some platforms have even banned re-marketing to healthcare brands for fear of breaching HIPAA rules.
It should also be in the interests of every healthcare service to send emails that offer true value, because poorly crafted emails are sure to lead to a high rate of people who opt out. Marketing agencies spend a lot of time on these data points to assess the efficacy of whatever tactics are deployed.
5. Be Careful With Personalization and ‘PHI’
Healthcare email marketing is often best when the content is personalized, and targeted emails are far more likely to convert in such cases. However, it’s essential to avoid using protected health information (PHI) or including segments that might detail things like drug choice or preferences for a particular treatment. The latter examples can also be deemed PHI, and this is why most providers refrain from using any personalization. But that’s not to say it cannot be used.
Personalization emails are a powerful way to attract new patients and promote new services etc. Although it’s often recommended to avoid personalization, an experienced SEO agency will know how to segment email recipients without falling foul of HIPAA compliance regulations.
Healthcare email marketing needs to have a clear strategy that will ensure all communication does not violate HIPAA compliance regulations. This refers to most emails that get sent out, from newsletters and welcome emails to personalized emails that may or may not contain protected health information.
Healthcare providers must commit to not sharing patient information with anyone and only engage with individuals who sign up for marketing emails. While it’s sometimes possible to personalize these emails, it’s often best to avoid them, and there must be a clear way recipients can unsubscribe from marketing emails at any time.
HIPAA is a serious issue and violations can result in huge fines. However, healthcare services can ensure everything is kept above board by working with an SEO agency like Digital Authority Partners. We are familiar with HIPAA compliance and the attributes that can help build a thriving email marketing campaign. Call us for help with your HIPAA-compliant healthcare campaign!
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