Ensuring HIPAA Compliance With Your Digital Marketing Communications

Updated on December 14, 2023

Everyone who works in the healthcare industry is familiar with the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act of 1996 (HIPAA)—and ensuring compliance with these guidelines is a top priority for all healthcare organizations. 

With that said, balancing HIPAA compliance with effective marketing strategies can be very challenging without the right support, strategy, and technology. Let’s discuss the role of HIPAA in healthcare marketing and how to ensure compliance in digital communications.

The Role of HIPAA Compliance in Healthcare Marketing

HIPAA was designed to set requirements and security standards to protect patients’ health information. Because violating HIPAA can result in significant penalties, healthcare organizations must take great care to follow the marketing guidelines outlined by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services.

Healthcare marketers are tasked with attracting, educating, and converting prospects—all without violating patient privacy laws. Keeping patient data secure is of the utmost importance, but what steps should you take to make it happen?

5 Key Considerations for HIPAA-Compliant Communications

Questions or concerns about HIPAA compliance and marketing? Here are five things to keep in mind to ensure your digital communications are HIPAA compliant:

1. Involve the right key stakeholders.

Involving key stakeholders in your digital marketing communications strategy isn’t just beneficial for healthcare organizations—it’s essential. 

Taking a collaborative approach and involving all key stakeholders—legal experts, compliance partners, marketing professionals, customer service representatives, nurses, and front-office staff— will help you develop a comprehensive understanding of both the complexities of HIPAA compliance and effective communication strategies. 

Legal, compliance, and regulatory teams play a crucial role in interpreting HIPAA regulations and helping marketing teams better understand what constitutes protected health information (PHI). Meanwhile, marketing professionals must balance creativity and compliance, crafting messages that resonate with audiences while also safeguarding patient data and adhering to privacy standards.

2. Utilize all digital platforms effectively.

In the healthcare industry, it’s common for organizations to use multiple digital platforms for digital marketing communications. For example, many use an electronic health record (EHR) solution to store patient information and a platform such as HubSpot to store sales and marketing prospects.

To protect patient privacy, it’s important to use a combination of digital platforms from vendors who are committed to HIPAA compliance. Certain features, such as double opt-in on forms to confirm consent, allow you to control which information you collect and store. 

That said, getting double opt-in on consent doesn’t guarantee HIPAA compliance. Your legal, compliance, and/or regulatory team should carefully review any opt-in language—as well as its correlation with how the collected data is being used—to make sure it aligns with HIPAA guidelines. 

3. Take a careful approach to HIPAA integrations.

If you’re using a combination of digital platforms, you likely want to integrate those solutions, but HIPAA comes into play here as well. Integrations between EHR systems and marketing platforms need to be HIPAA compliant. 

Set up a one-way integration to make sure you aren’t passing sensitive patient information from the EHR to digital marketing platforms and that you don’t store PHI in your marketing contact database. Only store information gathered from prospects in response to marketing communications.

4. Ensure accuracy with regular data management.

Regular data audits and cleanups are a must for healthcare organizations sending digital marketing communications. Each month, spend time cleaning up your database to be sure you’re not collecting and storing data protected by HIPAA.  

Bulk editing allows you to remove unnecessary information with ease. You can also remove contacts who converted from prospects to patients from your database, which will help ensure you only communicate with them in your EHR system.

5. Personalize marketing emails while staying compliant.

Personalization tokens are very effective in email marketing. However, healthcare organizations should use these tokens with caution in email communications because it’s possible they could violate HIPAA.

To avoid this, stick to using generalized language that’s specific to service offerings. Never include specific details about a patient’s treatment or medical history in your emails to maintain compliance and confidentiality in your digital communications that aren’t HIPPA compliant.

Start Deploying Effective, HIPAA-Compliant Communications 

Learning about HIPAA requirements and staying informed is a necessity for healthcare marketers, but it doesn’t have to be a painful or complicated process.

With the right strategic approach and a commitment to due diligence, healthcare organizations can overcome HIPAA challenges and deploy effective, compliant digital communications that turn prospects into patients.

Sandra Moore
Sandy Moore
Senior Director, Marketing Strategy at SmartBug Media

Sandy Moore is a senior director, marketing strategy at SmartBug Media. She has more than 20 years of experience in marketing with extensive knowledge in outbound and inbound marketing, advertising sales, promotions, public relations, and sales enablement.