When it comes to email marketing, many companies think they know how the law needs to be applied. They may have heard of the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act (HIPAA), which protects the sensitive health information of employees, patients, and members. However, they may not be aware of how strictly HIPAA applies to email marketing or what HIPAA rules they must follow.
HIPAA is a set of federal regulations that govern the collection, use, and disclosure of sensitive health information. These regulations were passed to protect privacy and ensure the accuracy of such information. The regulations impose certain requirements on businesses, governmental agencies, and other organizations that generate, maintain, or store health information. They also cover the use of email by healthcare providers when communicating with patients about their health.
When it comes to email marketing for healthcare providers, several important points must be considered. One is the type of healthcare provider the company markets to, as well as the type of health information they typically communicate about. Another important consideration is how HIPAA treats email as a communication vehicle. Does it consider it an oral or written communication? Does it apply to one email or to each message in a thread? These are all key questions that arise when thinking about email marketing and HIPAA compliance.
What is Email Marketing?
Email marketing is marketing a company’s goods or services through the use of email.
The definition of email marketing can be rather broad. It can include email campaigns aimed at encouraging people to make purchases or take certain actions. It can also include email blasts regarding a business or organization. In the United States, email marketing is considered a type of ‘billable consulting hours’ under the category of’marketing and advertising’.
According to HubSpot Blogs research, the average person checks their email about 20 times a day. That’s three hours of email marketing per day, or about six hours per week.
Why are healthcare providers interested in Email Marketing?
Wellness.com reports that healthcare providers are increasingly using email to stay in touch with their patients. In fact, 82% of healthcare providers use some type of email communication with their patients.
Additionally, 62% of healthcare providers use email to communicate about healthcare issues. This is a clear indication that healthcare providers value their patients’ input and want to hear what they have to say. Moreover, 38% of healthcare providers use email to follow up on healthcare-related purchases made by their patients. This shows that healthcare providers use email to stay connected to their patients and continue the care they offer.
So, as you can see, healthcare providers have several reasons for communicating via email. Moreover, they value the convenience of being able to communicate with their patients whenever they want.
The Difference between Email and Social Media Marketing
According to HubSpot Blogs research, only 16% of consumers consider email marketing to be a form of social media marketing. That’s surprising since, traditionally, email marketing was considered a form of direct mail marketing. However, with the increased use of social media in everyday life, the lines between direct mail marketing, email marketing, and social media marketing have become blurred.
The fact that consumers consider email marketing to be a form of social media marketing demonstrates the importance that businesses and healthcare providers place on email. Moreover, it shows how much they value the convenience and accessibility that email provides.
HIPAA and Email Marketing for Healthcare Providers
If your business receives or creates sensitive healthcare information, you must comply with the stringent security and privacy requirements of HIPAA. These regulations apply to any organization or business that handles or stores healthcare information. They also apply to any organization that allows healthcare providers to access patient records via email.
HIPAA establishes standards for the security, integrity, and privacy of electronic healthcare information. They also require healthcare providers to protect the privacy of their patients. The law imposes severe penalties on those who violate HIPAA. To learn more about HIPAA and its impact on healthcare providers, check out the Center for Medicare and Medicaid Services’ (CMS) website.
As a healthcare provider, you must be careful not to put yourself in a potential HIPAA breach. When it comes to email marketing for healthcare providers, you must make sure that you are not breaking any HIPAA rules by sending email blasts to patients without their explicit consent.
Sending Unencrypted Emails
According to the Center for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS), when it comes to email marketing for healthcare providers, “legally binding” means that “electronic communications in email format are protected by privacy and security rules that apply to them just like letters, voice mail messages, and other similar communications.”
In other words, when you send an email with clinical information in it, that email is legally binding and must be kept private. However, when you send an email with marketing information in it, the privacy and security rules concerning that marketing information do not apply. For example, you can use marketing emails to communicate about your product or service and include appropriate call to actions (e.g., buy, subscribe, etc.).
If you are unable to encrypt your emails, you must notify your patients in writing that their information is not secure and that it might be accessed by someone else. You should do this in addition to taking steps to ensure that their information is not accessed by unauthorized individuals.
Use of Email to Communicate About Healthcare Issues
Depending on which industry you are in, you may have encountered numerous emails on your phone from businesses that you do not want to hear from. Well, now that you are working in healthcare, you will want to be getting those emails. That’s because healthcare consumers (patients) have a lot to say and can provide valuable feedback regarding your services.
According to the HIPAA Security Best Practices Guide, “[I]t is important to collect and review data to determine if a consumer is satisfied with the services provided.” Moreover, the NPI Handbook and the HIPAA Security Best Practices Guide both state that you should regularly ask your patients if they are satisfied with the healthcare provided and whether they would recommend your practice. Additionally, you can use email to keep in touch with patients and ask them for suggestions regarding new treatments or procedures. Moreover, you can use email to follow up on healthcare purchases made by your patients. This shows that you value your patients’ input and want to hear what they have to say.
If you are interested in using email to communicate about healthcare, here are some general guidelines to follow:
1. Be mindful of which industry you are marketing to.
As we mentioned above, only certain industries are considered ‘sensitive’. So, if you are marketing to the healthcare industry, you must consider the need to protect the privacy of your patients. This means you must use SSL encryption whenever possible and be careful about what type of information you communicate about in emails.
If you are unable to provide data encrypted via SSL, you must have your patients provide written informed consent before you can send them any type of marketing email.
2. Identify the purpose of the email.
The most basic rule when communicating with patients via email is to always identify the purpose of the email. To use an old saying, “Actions speak louder than words,” and this is especially true when communicating with patients. You should aim to clarify in the email what you are trying to achieve and, more importantly, why you are emailing the patient in the first place.
The HIPAA Security Best Practices Guide provides some great tips on how to write an effective email. For example, it recommends starting the email with a short overview of the reason for the email. It also suggests using simple, easily understood language and avoiding complex medical terminology. Additionally, it suggests using the ‘short and sweet’ approach, as well as keeping the language concise and simple.
3. Use your judgment.
When it comes to healthcare marketing, there are always varying degrees of risks and benefits. Using your judgment can help you figure out the right balance between the two. If you are still unsure, having more information will not hurt.
4. Identify recipients.
Unlike most other types of marketing emails, healthcare marketing emails must contain the name of each individual recipient. This means you must identify who you are sending the email to and ensure that every person on your mailing list is made aware of the content of the email.