Guarantee Success With HIPAA-Compliant Email Marketing

Gretchen Kalthoff

Gretchen Kalthoff

Posted on May 13, 2016

Email marketing is a great way to stay in touch with your patients. One study found that the average office worker spends around 3.1 hours per day reading and answering personal email.
Email ad revenue has also reached $156 million per year, and for every $1 spent on email marketing, the average return on investment for businesses is $44.25.
With these numbers, it’s impossible to ignore email marketing as one of the key ingredients of successful medical marketing plans. Its relative ease of use and small upfront investment further qualify it as one of the best marketing tools for your hospital or practice.
Yet before you engage in email marketing, there is one vital point you must be aware of – HIPAA compliancy. Many medical practices are hesitant to use email marketing due to HIPAA rules and regulations. The consequences of a violation are serious, but having just established how important email marketing is, the key is to stay on the right side of HIPAA laws and the best way to do this is through permission.
Within the HIPAA laws, there is much left open to interpretation. Unfortunately, they are not clear-cut, so the best and easiest way to make sure you stay on the right side of the law is to always include an opt-in to your marketing communications. That way, there is absolutely no question that you are allowed to send information to your patients. This means explicitly requesting, and receiving, their agreement to receive emails from your practice. You may request a patient’s email address on your sign-in forms, or via your website, but you then must include a question about communication preferences. You can add questions such as “How would you like to hear from us?” or “What type of communications would you like to receive?”. With the latter, you can explain the different types, such as newsletters, appointment reminders, or condition-specific information.
If patients hesitate to opt-in, try explaining how the communications will benefit them. If they still decide not to opt in, respect their decision rather than forcing the issue – they can always opt in at a later date, once they feel more comfortable. During any face-to-face interactions, take the opportunity to remind them about things that are highly relevant and interesting, such as a condition specific event. If you plan to send email invitations, you have a perfect chance to see if they’d like to opt-in again.
emailing with hipaa compliancy
Once patient’s opt-in, you must also provide them with an easy way to opt out, typically via a link at the bottom of any communications. If someone opts out, make sure you have a fail-proof process that removes them from your future emails – this is normally managed automatically via email marketing service providers.

When selecting a provider, be sure to ask that they have the capabilities to offer HIPAA compliant email and the service covers all of the necessary security measures. If they cannot give you this guarantee, look elsewhere. Finally, remember that patients’ email addresses are considered protected health information (PHI) and must be handled accordingly.
Ultimately, successful HIPAA-compliant email marketing boils down to what is best for the patient. Take the necessary precautions. If patients do request to receive emails, then engage with them. Both the patient and the practice can reap the benefits.

Gretchen Kalthoff

Gretchen Kalthoff

Gretchen Kalthoff is a writer and marketing specialist for MWE. She is an expert in healthcare marketing and health IT with a special interest in increasing patient engagement through social media and healthcare technologies.

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