Email marketing in the healthcare industry is complicated.
It is not as straightforward as sending blast emails or even personalized emails to leads as this domain operates with a different set of rules. If you are in the healthcare business you would have already bumped into HIPAA compliance.
Sticking to the HIPAA regulations regarding electronic protected health information (ePHI) is crucial. Without it you risk exposing sensitive patient information and end up with legal penalties.
There’s a good reason why HIPAA gets to have a say in email marketing in the healthcare industry- patient information is valuable. In 2021 alone there were close to two instances of data breeches of 500 or more healthcare records in the United States every day.
So how do we go about setting up a successful HIPAA marketing email marketing strategy for the healthcare industry? Continue reading to find out!
What is HIPAA and why should it matter to marketers?
The Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act or HIPAA primarily exists to protect and secure patient information. Even if you aren’t sending marketing emails, as a healthcare provider you would still send transactional and informational emails to patients. HIPAA marketing rules has guidelines for what goes in and what shouldn’t for all emails.
HIPAA is divided into several categories such as a privacy rule, cybersecurity rule, enforcement rule, notification rule and so on. It is noteworthy to mention that most companies attract their troubles by violating the minimum necessary rule which falls under the privacy rule.
Under the minimum necessary rule, employees should work with the least amount of personal health information (PHI) to complete a task. Collect any more PHI than is needed and it start violating the regulations.
What constitutes personal health information (PHI)?
It’s a lot of basic information about patients such as:
- Contact information
- Social security numbers
- Medical information
- Financial information
- Facial information
Complying with HIPAA means you do everything necessary to ensure that the personal health information (PHI) of patients is protected at all costs.
The idea is to keep information from falling into the hands of unauthorized people who could link medical data to the specific person. HIPAA compliance is necessary on part of both the health care provider and their business associates who provide administrative, tech or marketing services.
Why the strict regulations?
The simple answer is that data breaches are on the rise.
Since the records began in 2009 healthcare data breeches have sky rocketed every year. In 2010 close to 6 million people were victims of data breaches in the country. In 2021 that number is over 50 million!
Surprisingly 73.2% of the breaches involve healthcare providers and hacking is the biggest threat to healthcare data.
As a healthcare provider or a marketer it is in your best interest to ensure HIPAA compliance for two reasons:
1. Everybody has a basic right to privacy
Your clients trust you with their personal data and you have an obligation to maintain their privacy. When you send an email to your patient, there are four points of contact that the information goes through. On your end, it is the email software and transmission, on the other end it’s the reception of the mail and its storage.
While HIPAA doesn’t hold you accountable for what happens at the recipient’s side, you need to ensure protection for information on your side. Human error is quite often the biggest contributor to HIPAA violations such as sending an email with PHI to the wrong address.
However, HIPAA compliant marketing automation tools can eliminate such errors and ensure privacy and safety- especially since medical data is a magnet for identity thieves.
2. You would want to avoid fines
Exposing personal information of patients even inadvertently can lead to hefty fines- more so if it’s determined that the breach could have been prevented from happening with a little more vigilance. The fine for violations can range from $100 to $50,000 based on the severity or up to $1.5 million depending on the scale.
If you’re still not convinced, check out this directory of big HIPAA fines listed by year.
HIPAA’s stance on email marketing
Before delving into HIPAA compliant email marketing, it’s essential to understand how HIPAA uses the term “marketing”.
HIPAA’s Privacy Rule defines the term “marketing” as making “a communication about a product or service that encourages recipients of the communication to purchase or use the product or service.”
It further goes on to clarify that the communication can only be considered as marketing if the sender has authorization from the individual.
Here are examples for marketing communication which requires prior authorization:
- A hospital sends an email to a former patient about a new cardiac facility that is not part of the hospital. The marketing communication also mentions the cost of treatment. However the communication is not meant as a treatment advice.
- A health insurer communicates insurance products or promotes other services based on the patient’s history.
- A glucose monitor selling company sends brochures to members of a health plan list after purchasing the list.
- Health care provider sells a list of patients to a drug manufacturer who offers discounted medications directly to the patients.
Here’s a list of communication that HIPAA doesn’t consider as marketing, and therefore doesn’t require prior authorization:
- The communication is made in regards to treatment.
- Health care provider shares information about a new or different product or service they offer.
- A physician recommends alternate treatments or providers to manage or care for a health condition.
How can healthcare providers mess up their communication or get it right? Here’s an example:
A healthcare provider communicates to a patient by sending a message that is not a HIPAA compliant SMS. It could be something on the lines of “Dear Mr. Matt, this is a friendly reminder that you have a 4 o’ clock meeting today with the oncologist to discuss your cancer”.
Maybe Mr. Matt hadn’t revealed his condition to his family or colleagues and they were right beside him when he opens the message. The sms could also be intercepted by other applications or someone else thus revealing his condition.
A more discreet HIPAA compliant communication would be “Dear Mr. Matt, this is a friendly reminder that you have a 4 o’ clock appointment today at the Sunshine Clinic”.
The same healthcare provider can use a HIPAA compliant email marketing template such as this one:
Subject Line: Appointment Reminder – 12/12/2022 at 16:00 Hrs with Sunshine Clinic.
This is a reminder that you have scheduled an appointment with Sunshine Clinic on 12/12/2022 at 16:00 Hrs. Please review the appointment and confirm by clicking the bottom below.
We look forward to seeing you!
How to send HIPAA compliant marketing mails
To ensure your emails fall within HIPAA marketing guidelines there are a few basic steps you can take:
1. Ensure your patients authorize receiving marketing emails
As we’ve seen earlier in the HIPAA marketing guidelines, authorization from your patients is absolutely necessary to send marketing emails. There are three things you can do adhere to compliance:
- Let people know clearly that they are opting into your email marketing by signing up and giving you their contact information.
- Remind them about why chose to subscribe to your emails. It could any offering ranging from discount coupons and promotional gifts to refill reminders and care coordination.
- They should also know how often they can expect to receive emails and that they can opt out anytime.
2. Pick a reliable HIPAA compliant email marketing platform
The standard marketing tools won’t cut it when it comes to email marketing for healthcare organizations. What is needed is a HIPAA compliant tool that can send direct encrypted emails to patients.
LeadSquared healthcare CRM for example is fully HIPAA compliant and ensures PHI security. The automation brought about by the CRM captures patient inquiries, respond to queries faster and send review requests that are all secure.
A HIPAA compliant marketing service is the first step to ensure there are no violations of the regulations.
3. Avoid Sending Personalized emails
Personalization is one of the best email marketing practices that ensure higher opening and conversion rates. The Human touch brought about by personalization of healthcare marketing mails is imperative to really connect with your audience. However when it comes to HIPAA compliancy, personalization can quickly become your enemy.
Information that can identify individuals such as treatment preference, location, contact information or choice of drugs constitutes protected health information (PHI). These attributes can’t be used anywhere but their charts.
Choosing HIPAA compliant marketing automation tools
As a healthcare service provider or marketer, you will be bound by HIPAA regulations. It is possible to send general emails that do not fall under HIPAA’s definitions with a regular marketing service. However, when your communication involves electronic protected health information (ePHI), a HIPAA compliant email marketing service becomes a must-have.
So how do you pick a service that is HIPAA compliant? Here are some pointers:
1. Mention of HIPAA Certification
The simplest way to figure out if the marketing platform is right for you is to know if they mention anything about HIPAA certification on their website. To abide by the regulations the platform needs to update their technology and many simply lack the expertise or the desire to invest in it. So unless they offer HIPAA compliancy, they won’t mention it.
2. The Business Associate Agreement
A marketing platform that is HIPAA compliant will sign a business associate agreement (BAA) with you. The BAA solidifies their responsibility to protect the ePHI. However, there are companies that have limited functionality because of their restrictive BAAs. Therefore it’s important to read the fine print to understand their limitations.
3. Data Encryption
End-to-end data encryption is essential to keep your data safe while it is at rest (stored data at the source) and at transit (while being sent). When picking a platform you need to pay special attention to encryption of outbound emails. Since data that is in transit is highly susceptible to attacks, your platform must provide encryption to outbound mails.
The best HIPAA compliant healthcare CRM for Your Organization
Rated as the best by CRM.org, LeadSquared healthcare CRM serves the needs of many leading healthcare providers. Being fully HIPAA compliant it maintains robust PHI security and enables secure omnichannel communication with your patients.
As one of the leading HIPAA compliant marketing automation tools it allows you to:
- Capture leads (patients) from difference mediums such as ads, websites, social media and referrals.
- Respond quickly to inquiries through automated lead distribution.
- Communicate securely through channels such as email, WhatsApp, SMS and phone calls.
- Automate waiting lists and reschedule instantly.
- Automate patient intake to ease the process and increase show-up rates.
- Create customized patient portals.
- Seamlessly integrate with other tools such as EHR/EMR systems.
- Automate request for a review through text or email.
HIPAA exists primarily for the protection of the patient’s information. In today’s digital age People are apprehensive about the security of their personal information and hackers are on the prowl for weaknesses in the system. To successfully run a HIPAA compliant email marketing campaign you will need:
- The authorization of your patients for the use of their PHI
- HIPAA compliant email marketing strategy and implementation tool
- To avoid personalization in the marketing emails
- To make the opting-out process clear
Book a Demo today to learn how to send just the right marketing emails to your client base or better still, personalize the mail for them while continuing to adhere to HIPAA guidelines!