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Are email newsletters HIPAA compliant?

Are email newsletters HIPAA compliant?

Email newsletters can be HIPAA compliant, provided they're sent securely and adhere to HIPAA guidelines. The easiest route to HIPAA compliant newsletters is to use a HIPAA compliant email marketing service that will sign a business associate agreement (BAA).


HIPAA marketing rules 

The HIPAA Privacy Rule outlines guidelines for the use and disclosure of protected health information (PHI). In most situations, covered entities must obtain a patient's written authorization before their PHI can be utilized for marketing communication

"Marketing" typically refers to messages that promote the use or purchase of a product or service. Email newsletters fall under this definition of marketing, so patients need to opt-in to receive them. As with all other types of electronic communications, covered entities must also implement security protocols that protect the "confidentiality, integrity, and availability of PHI." Therefore, email newsletters can be HIPAA compliant if patients have explicitly consented to receive these messages and the necessary safeguards have been put in place.

Related: How does HIPAA define marketing?


Are there exceptions to the consent requirement?

Some communications, such as treatment options, appointment reminders, and healthcare-related services, are exempt from the opt-in requirement:

  • Communications related to treatment
  • Appointment reminders
  • Healthcare operations
  • Patient education
  • Fundraising
  • Prescription refill reminders
  • Case management or care coordination communications
  • Health-related products or services provided by the healthcare organization
  • Health-related products or services recommended by the healthcare provider


How to keep email newsletters HIPAA compliant 

Before sending email newsletters to patients, get their written permission through a consent form. This should involve a clear and simple process, such as checking a box that indicates their permission to receive marketing materials. 

Include information about the scope of marketing content and frequency of emails so patients know what to expect. Also, give them the opportunity to opt out at any time and provide instructions on how to do so. 

Be sure to maintain detailed records of patients' consent, including the date, time, and method used to collect their permission. This demonstrates compliance with HIPAA requirements and keeps your organization prepared in the event of an audit.  

Limit the use of PHI in newsletters and other types of marketing emails, only including information that is essential to your particular message. Alternatively, you can sign a business associate agreement (BAA) with a HIPAA compliant email marketing provider. A signed BAA ensures that the third-party organization will maintain a secure environment for handling sensitive patient information.

With a HIPAA compliant email marketing platform, healthcare marketers can go beyond generic newsletters to create highly personalized messages that help patients feel more valued. After all, according to Experian, "personalized emails deliver 6x higher transaction rates."

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