Like most other self-employed professionals, doctors, dentists, and other medical professionals need to advertise in order to stay in business. Some opt for advertising methods, like TV or magazine advertising in their local areas. Others opt for methods that rely more on content marketing and social media.
While all methods of advertising should remain HIPAA compliant, this post deals specifically with staying HIPAA compliant on social media and in a medical office’s content marketing efforts. It’ll give medical professionals some quick tips for advertising their business, while still keeping it HIPAA compliant.
This list provides a small overview of the topic. Medical professionals should always consult with a HIPAA expert about their HIPAA concerns as they relate to medical marketing when it doubt.
What is HIPAA Compliance, Anyway?
According to the HIPAA Journal, HIPAA compliance concerns itself with a set of rules that are based on the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act of 1996 (or HIPAA). That’s a mouthful for a concept that basically means that medical professionals must follow a set of guidelines that ensure that the privacy of their patients remains intact. Generally speaking, this means that a patient’s information is encrypted and stored on a server that meets HIPAA requirements.
A number of factors can influence whether or not a medical doctor’s or dentist’s website or blog is HIPAA compliant and that can include choosing the right HIPAA compliant web hosting. On the tech side of things, a medical site or blog can include safety features, like a firewall or SSL certificates for HIPAA compliance. These technical features can bleed over into the social media and marketing aspects of the HIPAA compliant website, which we’ll cover in the next section/s.
Social Media Tips
Social media sites, like Twitter or Facebook allow a medical practitioner to stay in contact with his/ her patients on a much more personal level. These sites also allow the professional to make announcements concerning the medical practice, to post journal articles about important procedures, and to generally inform the public. As an article on the Mayo Clinic website points out, social media gives the patient a chance to meet the doctor before he/ she actually meets the doctor.
But HIPAA compliance can create challenges for the medical professional and his/ her staff when it comes to posting information on social media. Medical practitioners and their staff need to keep a few guidelines in mind before making a post. For example, HIPAA guidelines prohibit posting personal identifiers, like a person’s picture, birthday, or vehicle information.
Even having a stack of patient files out when a company photo is taken can violate HIPAA compliance. Certainly, such a photo shouldn’t be posted on Facebook or Twitter.
When in doubt, it’s best to put together a social media policy that all members of a doctor’s or dentist’s staff can follow. This should include guidelines that forbid staffers from adding information, like a person’s name or contact information to a post. It’s important to note that most of the time, HIPAA violations happen due to staff error and not data hacking. That’s why it’s imperative to train all medical staff properly.
Content Marketing and Email
On the blogging front, these technologies allow a local doctor to post an in depth analysis of breaking news or medical procedures. This type of content marketing helps the medical professional establish a following for his/ her practice and to establish him/ herself as an expert in the field. The guidelines that apply to social media also apply to the content marketing and SEO practices for medical practitioner. Medical staff offices shouldn’t post personal identifiers of patients. This is against HIPAA guidelines.
Additionally, many doctors and dentists have become smarter about keeping an office mailing list. A mailing list is one of the most beneficial marketing tools a medical professional can employ in order to drum up business.
For email marketing, it’s best just to err on the side of caution: Encrypt everything. Also, patients who have not requested information by email shouldn’t be sent communication from the doctor’s office. Most email programs have an opt-in option. Medical professionals should make sure that this feature is activated when they set up their email marketing system. It’s best to make it easy for a patient to opt out of a doctor’s email newsletter if that is the patient’s desire.