Are you having trouble putting together a HIPAA-compliant healthcare marketing plan? 

If you are, you are not alone. 

The healthcare industry has lagged behind other sectors in adopting cutting-edge digital marketing methods because of a complex regulatory environment that includes requirements like HIPAA compliance for patient data protection.

It’s a lot to think about. And that’s why we’ve put together this comprehensive guide about how to implement HIPAA compliance for a successful online medical marketing strategy.

What Is HIPAA Compliance and Why Is It Important?

HIPAA, also known as the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act, was implemented in 1996. It establishes the legal requirements for healthcare organizations to maintain, share, and handle Protected Health Information (PHI) about patients.

According to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, any company that manages payments or operations for healthcare services is a “covered entity” and must comply with the HIPAA Privacy Rule.

Also, according to HIPAA, a business associate is any individual or organization that renders services to a covered entity and is required to disclose Protected Health Information (PHI). To avoid losing healthcare clients, software businesses that retain, disclose, or have access to PHI are required to comply with HIPAA.

Simply put, HIPAA demands that you:

  • Establish safety measures to protect the health data of a patient.
  • Have signed agreements with service providers who carry out specific tasks or actions for you.
  • Implement measures to restrict who has access to patient health information.
  • Limit the use of information and share it responsibly when required.
  • Introduce a training program for you and your staff on how to safeguard patient health information.

What Is Protected Health Information (PHI)?

Protected health information (PHI) is information about a person’s health that is present in any physical document, such as a patient’s medical history, past treatments and diagnoses, test results, hospital bills, etc.

The HIPAA Journal defines PHI as any identifiable personal information that is generated, captured, distributed, or preserved by a covered entity in connection with the delivery of healthcare, the payment of medical services, or use in healthcare delivery. This information can relate to a person’s past, present, or future health status.

One or more of the identifiers listed below make up protected health information:

  • Full-face pictures
  • Patient’s phone number and emergency contacts
  • Full name, last name, or initials
  • Gender
  • E-mail addresses
  • Geographical landmarks smaller than a state
  • Dates that are directly tied to a person other than the year
  • Indicators of social security
  • Fax number
  • License or certificate numbers
  • Insurance such as Health maintenance organizations and Medical Malpractice Insurance
  • Benefit recipients of health insurance
  • Number of medical records
  • Identification through biometrics (finger, retinal, and voice prints)
  • Account numbers
  • Vehicle identification, such as license plate numbers or serial numbers
  • Web-based unified resource locators (URLs)
  • Serial numbers and device identifiers
  • IP (Internet Protocol) addresses
  • Any other identification number or code, excluding the one that the investigator used to code the data.

When these identifiers are eliminated, the data is regarded as de-identified and is no longer constrained by the HIPAA Privacy Rule.

What Types of Information Are Not Identified as PHI?

What is not considered PHI is defined by the Department of Health and Human Services as follows:

  • A statement made regarding a health-related product or service that the covered entity (CE) making the statement offers or that is mentioned in a plan of benefits. 

For instance, covered entities are permitted to let clients know when a new facility or kind of treatment will be available.

  • Prescription reminders or lab test referrals that are part of a patient’s treatment plan are not regarded as a marketing and therefore do not require patient consent.
  • Marketing that does not include care coordination communications, such as referrals to a different doctor or suggestions about the course of treatment.

How To Implement a HIPAA Compliant Healthcare Marketing Strategy 

Even though healthcare marketing technology lags compared to other industries, patients still need great digital experiences. 

According to a PEW Healthcare survey, 89% of patients want quick and easy access to their electronic medical records. Another review of patient satisfaction with telemedicine shows that 95-100% of patients feel at ease contacting service providers digitally, whether it is via online chats, texting, mobile apps, or live video.

Hence, there are things you can do to reduce your chances of a HIPAA compliance violation, regardless of the healthcare digital marketing approach you employ. To deliver a compelling HIPAA-compliant digital experience, follow these strategies:

1. Prioritize Actions That Will Reduce the Risk of a HIPAA Compliance Violation

Establish a PHI usage policy with Standard Operating Procedures for:

  • Defining who can access to PHI and frequently monitoring security. 
  • Make sure your marketing departments receive frequent HIPAA standards training.
  • Ensuring that patients have a simple option to choose whether or not to receive commercial communications. 
  • Keeping an eye on how the policy is being implemented. 
  • Keeping records of your marketing campaigns and clarifying why PHI is included. 
  •  Obtaining the patient’s consent before using their PHI to market to them. 
  • Ensuring that a patient agrees to you using their email address to deliver notifications and promotions by making simple opt-in email capture forms available.

2. Implement HIPAA Compliance for Your Websites

The cornerstone of your healthcare marketing plan is your website, so make sure it’s safe and easy to use. To do this, follow these guidelines:

  • Make sure all of your website’s web forms are encrypted and secure.
  • Get regular website audit reports to analyze your website for technical and SEO errors. While website security is the main focus of a HIPAA-compliant site, you shouldn’t ignore other SEO errors that could impact the overall user experience, such as crawling, usability, and website speed. 
  • Get an SSL certificate for your website and install it.
  • All data from contact forms, web forms, and appointment requests should be kept on a secure server with an offsite backup.
  • Partner with HIPAA-compliant web hosting companies
  • Make sure that only people with permission can access PHI.
  • Designate a HIPAA compliance officer to oversee and uphold your policies.
  • Send out emails containing PHI only through servers that support encryption.
  • Place a privacy statement on your website.
  • Sign a Business Associate Agreement (BAA) with anyone who has access to the PHI of your patients.
  • Create procedures for erasing, safeguarding, and restoring PHI as required.

3. Apply HIPAA Compliance to Your Email Marketing Strategies

One of the best strategies for increasing your healthcare marketing ROI is email marketing. 

When launching campaigns, email marketers should adhere to the CAN-SPAM Act compliance guidance provided by the Federal Trade Commission’s (FTC) Bureau of Consumer Protection.

  • Add your email address so that people can contact you by email.
  • In the subject line, describe what the email contains.
  • Make it simple for email subscribers to unsubscribe.
  • Never draft emails containing PHI without patients’ explicit consent.
  • Make it very clear that your communication is an advertisement.
  • In the “from,” “respond to,” and “route information” parts of the email, specify the company that is sending it.
  • To guarantee that only you and the recipient can access the content, encrypt any email containing PHI of any kind, including names and email addresses. 
  • Make sure that systems required to store email data with PHI are also encoded with off-site backups.

4. Ensure That Your Social Media Marketing is HIPAA Compliant

By immediately disseminating vital information regarding services, medical reports, and the most recent conditions and treatment research, social media assists patients in taking an active role in their care. 

For your social media strategy to be HIPAA compliant, follow these actionable tips:

  • Use stock pictures to prevent staff workers from publishing practice images and unintentionally disclosing PHI.
  • Do not distribute social media content or advertisements that contain PHI without explicit permission.
  • Before posting, set up controls that can alert you of any terms or phrases that might suggest a HIPAA compliance violation.
  • Avoid obtaining patient-specific data on social networking platforms because they are neither HIPAA compliant nor encrypted.
  • To ensure HIPAA compliance, develop a social media plan that outlines what staff members can and cannot share.
  • Do not permit employees to take photos of PHI inside your office, including any computer screens that may be showing it in the background.
  • Even if you modify their names, avoid mentioning any patients in social media posts.

What Impact Will HIPAA Compliance Have on Your Marketing Campaigns?

The HIPAA Privacy Rule of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services defines marketing as:

  • A product or service advertisement that motivates readers to buy or use the advertised product or service.
  • A contract between a covered entity and any other entity under which the covered entity divulges PHI to the other entity. This is done in exchange for direct or indirect compensation so that the other business or its affiliate can communicate with recipients about its goods or services in a way that encourages them to buy or use them. 

Before using or disclosing a patient’s PHI for marketing purposes to a third party, you must first get the patient’s written consent. This calls for the use of opt-in email capture forms. Do not simply assume that because you have a patient’s email address on file that it is appropriate to market to them.

Additionally, no healthcare practitioner (covered entity) should sell PHI to a business partner or other third party of that party’s self-interest without the express consent of each patient. A complete list of required authorizations is available here.

Why Do Your Medical Clients Need HIPAA-Compliant Software? 

According to the HIPAA Journal, the goal of HIPAA compliance software is to assist HIPAA-covered companies or business partners in becoming and remaining compliant while adhering to the HITECH Act Rules. Companies can document all genuine attempts to comply with regulations using compliant software.

For instance, a typical texting app might not provide necessary data privacy data safeguards, whereas a HIPAA-compliant texting app ensures secure and private communication between healthcare providers and patients. This feature significantly aids compliance by encrypting sensitive patient data, thereby reducing the risk of data breaches.

This is done to defend a healthcare organization from an investigation into a data breach by the HHS Office for Civil Rights (OCR) or state attorneys general. Also, the program aids in staff training and organizational, physical, and technological security measures.

It’s in the best interests of your healthcare firm to invest in HIPAA-compliant software because even minor violations can result in hefty fines.


All things considered, adhering to strict regulations isn’t the only aspect of HIPAA-compliant marketing; you also need to continually gain and build trust with your clients as their healthcare professional. It is also important to respect your clients as people, not just as consumers.

When it comes to effective advertising, healthcare marketing can be complicated and confusing, but following these best practices will help you lay a solid legal marketing foundation.