As more of everything we do is conducted online, digital privacy should be something that everyone takes more seriously. This is because we know that if the wrong person accesses the right information at the wrong time, it can cause us more than a major inconvenience. Despite this, how many of us still use the same password to access every online service we use? And seriously, if you still use a password like “P4ssW0rd1”, you should probably give yourself a good talking to. 

 

There are numerous rules, regulations, and systems designed to keep us safe online. Thanks to these rules, regulations, and systems, we often begrudgingly count traffic lights and checkboxes to prove we are not robots. Then we comply with two-step verification processes before we log in to everything from our social media accounts to those all-important banking and financial services apps.  

 

While privacy is of utmost importance in many different areas of our digital lives, healthcare is perhaps one of the most sensitive areas. 

 

The healthcare industry is an $11.9 trillion business built on the back of a mountain of incredibly sensitive data. Nobody wants to share their personal information with a healthcare provider and find their name has been farmed out to a random marketing list. However, that doesn’t mean we cannot use that information for transactional emails, carefully placed marketing campaigns, and other equally carefully positioned educational material (more about that later). 

 

Thankfully, there is an equally robust regulation to keep that information safe. 

 

The Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act of 1996 (HIPAA)

The Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act of 1996 (HIPAA) ensures that healthcare providers, including health insurance companies, HMOs, company health plans, and specific government programs that pay for health care, such as Medicare and Medicaid, keep all that sensitive data safe. It also allows them to successfully exploit that data like any other commercial enterprise. 

 

In this respect, healthcare providers shouldn’t fear HIPAA. Like GDPR, CAN-SPAM, CASL, and other global regulations, HIPAA provides a framework to keep everyone safe, honest, and in business. Much like those previously mentioned regulations, HIPAA is built around the basis of permission and security.  

 

To comply with HIPAA, healthcare providers covered by the act must:  

  • Guarantee the confidentiality, integrity, and availability of all data relating to an individual’s health information. 
  • Detect and safeguard against anticipated threats to the security of information 
  • Protect against anticipated unpermitted uses or disclosures of data 
  • Certify compliance by their staff  

 

HIPAA is a Regulation with Teeth

Failure to comply with HIPAA standards will not only potentially damage a healthcare provider’s reputation as sensitive information is misused, but there is also the very real risk of hefty fines. 

 

The penalty structure is overseen by the Office for Civil Rights and based on a tiered system. These range from a tier-one violation that the covered entity was unaware of and could not have realistically avoided to a tier four violation that constitutes willful neglect and where no attempt has been made to correct the violation. 

 

Fines for a tier-one violation start at $100 per violation up to a maximum fine of $50,000. Meanwhile, a tier four violation comes with the threat of a minimum fine of $50,000 per violation. 

 

Multi-Channel Compliance

Here’s where it gets complicated. Like any other marketing data, patient data is collected, stored, and managed across multiple platforms, including Customer Relationship Management (CRM) platforms, email marketing and marketing automation platforms, eCommerce, booking systems, and a whole range of other legacy built and third-party applications. 

 

Remember, your data is as secure as the weakest point in your overall tech stack and that includes the people who operate your systems and access that data. Can you really guarantee that none of your data will ever find its way onto a spreadsheet and walk out of the door? Therefore, it is essential that any technology deployed is HIPAA compliant and staff who come into contact with that technology are fully trained. 

 

Healthcare Marketing Best Practice

HIPAA compliance is only the first step toward a healthcare marketing strategy wrapped in best practice. 

 

Obviously, all campaigns should be accessible. This is non-negotiable for healthcare organizations. To hammer home the fact, it’s worth reminding you that under the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), digital accessibility is a right protected with the threat of more fines, up to $150,000 for the non-compliant. 

 

Then there’s the question of personalization. This is important because engagement is a real challenge with healthcare marketing. Personalization is permissible under HIPAA rules and will help with engagement, but you mustn’t go over the top. 

 

Too much personalization can appear intrusive and maybe even a little creepy. Essentially your campaigns should only include the information the subscriber has surrendered and is happy to be shared on a device that may potentially be accessed or viewed by someone other than the subscriber. 

 

You can also forget all those clever “clickbait” marketing tactics. Nobody wants to be tricked into opening an email from a healthcare provider. The moral of the story is that in healthcare, the right email to the right person at the right time takes a little more planning and consideration than the average marketing strategy. 

 

It’s therefore essential that healthcare organizations only work with technology companies that can guarantee that they not only fully comply with HIPAA regulations but also fully understand the nuances of healthcare marketing. 

 

Need help navigating HIPAA and the sensitive world of healthcare marketing? Contact us at expert@emfluence.com! 

 

 


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