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Personalized email marketing in healthcare


Drive results while avoiding HIPAA infractions

Email is an effective marketing tool for nearly every industry.  From a return on investment (ROI) perspective, the industry standard for email marketing is about $42 for every dollar spent.

From a usage standpoint, half of all people on the planet use email and 59% of consumers say email marketing influences their decision to purchase. 

In the US alone, over 240 million people use email and over 70% of them prefer to interact with businesses via email. 

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Due to HIPAA regulations however, the healthcare industry has missed out on the vast benefits afforded by this method of communication with clients. 

In this article, we’ll explain the reasons behind this and what’s ahead for HIPAA compliant email marketing.


Email Marketing in Healthcare Today

Many healthcare organizations take a prohibitive stance on even sending banal email newsletters to their patients.  The reasoning often used is that even the From: and To: fields can be interpreted as containing protected health information (PHI).

In effect, email marketing in U.S. healthcare barely exists, even in 2020.

Ironically enough, HIPAA compliant email marketing has never been needed more.  The reason lies behind an emerging trend: value-based care.


Personalization Drives Results

For industries outside the scope of HIPAA regulations, it’s widely accepted that email personalization and automation drive results.  In fact, studies show that open rates jump by 82% when marketing email is crafted to target a person’s specific needs and wants.  When it comes to calls-to-action (CTA’s), personalized emails yield a 200% improvement over non-personalized messages. 

In the case of healthcare, the holy grail of email marketing is the intersection of HIPAA compliance and being able to send personalized email based on criteria such as age, location, medical condition, and prescription type. 

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Up until now, that has largely been a dream rather than reality.


Personalization in Healthcare Email Marketing

Most things you would include in a personalized marketing email (such as a person’s past, present or future health condition for example) are protected under HIPAA as protected health information (PHI).

While anonymous health details or individual identifiers are not legally protected when sent by themselves, when the two are brought together you need to be careful to abide by HIPAA regulations.  For example, if you want to segment your patient outreach by attributes like drug of choice, location, or treatment preference, your emails need to be HIPAA compliant.

Consequences for a HIPAA violation can be devastating to a business.  Violators can be fined up to $1.5 million per year.  Fines can be as high as $50,000 for each instance of wrongdoing. 

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When you research HIPAA compliant email marketing, you will find that many people recommend erring on the safe side and not including any PHI at all in your campaigns.  

However, missing out on the powerful tool of email marketing can slow the growth and success of your business.  If you can leverage PHI to send more effective messages, you will have a much larger return for your marketing efforts.

The truth is that as a healthcare provider you can use personalized email marketing - if you keep the following in mind.


Requirements for HIPAA Compliant Email Marketing

First of all, any correspondence which is subject to HIPAA must be encrypted.  This goes for all your email communication with patients or prospects, not just marketing emails.

Equally important, the vendor that you use to send your correspondence must sign a Business Associate Agreement (BAA) with you.  However, in the email marketing space, a majority of vendors will not sign a BAA with their customers.  Of the few that do, it pays to read the fine print.  For example, vendors like Constant Contact do sign a BAA, yet their customers aren’t allowed to use their service to actually transmit protected health information (PHI) via email.


In Summary

To avoid HIPAA infractions while using personalized email marketing:

  • Partner with a vendor to encrypt all patient email correspondence (this goes for all email communication with patients)

  • Sign a BAA with the vendor

  • Read the fine print - make sure that the vendor will actually allow you to include PHI in your marketing emails (many will not)

Read about more best practices once you are ready to start sending your email marketing campaigns here.

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