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HIPAA and Healthcare Marketing: How to Avoid Massive Fines

By: DoctorLogic Employee

The United States Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) has diligently fined healthcare companies in violation of HIPAA in any way. One example of this is a dental practice in North Carolina that the HHS found had disclosed a patient's protected health information (PHI) online when responding to a negative review. Because of this violation, the Office for Civil Rights (OCR) imposed a penalty of $50,000, which is the fine for particularly serious violations.

HIPAA and Healthcare Marketing: How to Avoid Massive Fines

The United States Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) has diligently fined healthcare companies in violation of HIPAA in any way. One example of this is a dental practice in North Carolina that the HHS found had disclosed a patient’s protected health information (PHI) online when responding to a negative review. Because of this violation, the Office for Civil Rights (OCR) imposed a penalty of $50,000, which is the fine for particularly serious violations.

Even with HIPAA training, staying in total compliance is often challenging without HIPAA-compliant marketing software. To help you maintain compliance with HIPAA in your healthcare marketing efforts, it’s important to understand more about HIPAA and what makes marketing fully compliant.

What is HIPAA?

HIPAA is the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act of 1996. The government put this law into place to set specific standards in the U.S. for the security of protected health information (PHI). It also aimed to improve the healthcare industry’s overall efficiency. The PHI that HIPAA protects consists of any information that can help identify patients within their files, including photos, addresses, and other information.

HIPAA comprises three main rules that dictate how healthcare professionals maintain privacy and security and resolve breaches. These rules include:

HIPAA Privacy Rule

This rule establishes that any company providing healthcare treatments, operations, or payment management is a “covered entity,” along with any of the company’s business associates. One main goal of this rule is to ensure patients’ PHI is consistently protected while enabling organizations to provide high-quality healthcare and preserve people’s wellbeing.

HIPAA Security Rule

The Security Rule aims to preserve the privacy of PHI while giving “covered entities” the ability to use the technologies necessary to provide the best healthcare services. The flexibility of this rule gives entities the chance to implement various technologies, procedures, and policies that best suit each organization.

HIPAA Breach Notification Rule

According to this rule, if a covered entity discovers any breach of unsecured PHI, it must notify the Secretary. The obligations for notification will differ depending on whether the breach affects more or fewer than 500 people.

The most recent update to HIPAA took place in 2013, when the “Omnibus Rule” was introduced. This rule incorporated the privacy and security provisions of the Health Information Technology for Economic and Clinical Health (HITECH) Act.

What is healthcare marketing under HIPAA?

The HIPAA Privacy Rule defines healthcare marketing as the communication of a particular product or service that encourages potential patients to purchase or use a particular product or service. All covered entities communicating through marketing must obtain the “authorization” of an individual. A covered entity is any organization, individual, or agency providing healthcare treatments, payment management, or operations. HIPAA also applies to covered entities’ “business associates,” which are any entities or individuals who perform various activities or functions involving PHI while working with the covered entity. Business associates could include email providers, web hosting providers, and other providers of marketing services. All of these business associates must be able to meet HIPAA requirements when working with a “covered entity” of any kind, making it important for you to find the right associates when marketing your organization.

How do you implement HIPAA-compliant healthcare marketing?

There are several ways to implement HIPAA-compliant healthcare marketing that preserves the safety and security of patients’ PHI.

PHI Use Policy

Your organization should develop a PHI use policy that involves informing and training your marketing department to ensure they remain HIPAA-compliant. This policy will also help indicate who has access to PHI and why, with continuous monitoring of this data. Additionally, the policy should give patients the ability to opt in and out of marketing communications.

HIPAA-Compliant Email Marketing

Email marketing efforts also need to comply with HIPAA to make sure all PHI and electronic health records (EHR) remain consistently secure and protected from breaches. To start with, you should find a HIPAA-compliant email provider to help manage your email campaigns. Keep in mind that many email providers aren’t HIPAA-compliant as they won’t sign a Business Associate Agreement (BAA) with you, which the right provider will be able to sign.

You also must inform patients that they will be receiving marketing-related emails that encourage them to purchase products or services. In addition, all emails sent to patients should be encrypted, including marketing emails. You should never create emails that use PHI without the express consent of patients, and you must give recipients the option to unsubscribe at any time.

HIPAA-Compliant Social Media

Social media marketing efforts must also adhere to the same rules as email and other marketing efforts. This entails getting consent from patients before using posts or ads that include PHI.

Social media posts may feature photographs of the office space. However, you should be careful when taking and sharing office photos, as they may inadvertently contain PHI, including open patient records. To prevent the potential disclosure of PHI, you should document what your marketing team can and cannot post on social media.

HIPAA-Compliant Web Hosting

There are steps you can take to ensure that your company’s web hosting is secure and compliant with HIPAA’s rules. To make your web hosting compliant, you should store all forms and appointment data on encrypted servers with off-site backup, which will maintain consistent security while preventing data loss in the event of a disaster.

You also need to implement a Secure Sockets Layer (SSL) certificate, which is a protocol that enables data authentication, encryption, and decryption as it travels over the internet. This will help further keep patients’ data private and secure.

To further maintain compliance, your web hosting provider should be able to sign a BAA that makes them a HIPAA-compliant business associate. On your website, you should also include a HIPAA privacy policy that details how you use and protect PHI.

HIPAA-Compliant Content Management System (CMS)

All “covered entities” should have a content management system that adheres to HIPAA rules, but this can be challenging to find. The majority of CMS software such as WordPress isn’t compliant with HIPAA because of their inability to sign a BAA. Your CMS should be able to store patient data in a confidential manner and include lead management capabilities.

For any business, healthcare or otherwise, analytics are important to help understand user behavior and optimize marketing efforts. However, you must make sure your analytics are also HIPAA-compliant to avoid any issues regarding PHI. Popular solutions such as Google Analytics used “out of the box” is not HIPAA-compliant.

Get HIPAA-Compliant Healthcare Marketing with DoctorLogic

To give your business the ability to remain HIPAA-compliant, you need the right marketing tools and associates. At DoctorLogic, we can help you stay consistently compliant with the ideal healthcare marketing solutions. Our patient acquisition platform is built for HIPAA compliance and will help protect all PHI that you store and use. This means that all of your marketing activities are compliant from day one.

Using DoctorLogic, you’ll benefit from HIPAA-compliant email marketing and web hosting, along with a HIPAA-compliant content management system. DoctorLogic will ultimately help you build a stunningly designed and HIPAA-compliant website that attracts new patients while retaining existing ones

Our platform is specially designed to meet the requirements of healthcare providers. You can learn more about our solution and what it has to offer by requesting a free demo.