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HIPAA email marketing rules explained

HIPAA email marketing rules explained

As we've covered before, the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act (HIPAA) is a federal law that aims to protect the privacy and security of people's protected health information (PHI). One aspect of HIPAA that's relevant to many healthcare professionals is the regulation of marketing activities that use PHI.

This post will cover how email marketing in healthcare is defined and how it can

According to the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS), HIPAA defines "marketing" as any communication that is made by or on behalf of a covered entity (such as a healthcare provider or insurance company) and that encourages the recipient to purchase or use a product or service. In order to comply with HIPAA, any marketing activities that involve the use of PHI must meet certain requirements.


Marketing under the HIPAA Privacy Rule


See also: HIPAA compliant email marketing: What you need to know


What's considered marketing?

The HIPAA Privacy Rule defines marketing as making “a communication about a product or service that encourages recipients of the communication to purchase or use the product or service.”

In general, this means marketing communication can only happen if the covered entity first obtains an person's authorization.



The HIPAA definition of marketing has certain exceptions. Examples of as discussed below. Examples of “marketing” communications requiring prior authorization are: 

  • A communication from a hospital informing former patients about a cardiac facility, that is not part of the hospital, that can provide a baseline EKG for $39, when the communication is not for the purpose of providing treatment advice. 
  • A communication from a health insurer promoting a home and casualty insurance product offered by the same company.



One of the key requirements is that covered entities must obtain an individual's written authorization before using their PHI for marketing purposes. This means that individuals must provide their explicit and voluntary consent for their PHI to be used in marketing campaigns. Furthermore, the written authorization must include specific information about the types of PHI that will be used and for what purposes.



Another requirement is that covered entities must provide individuals with an opportunity to opt out of receiving marketing communications. This means that individuals must be given the ability to unsubscribe from marketing emails or text messages and that their request must be honored promptly.


PHI in marketing

Covered entities are also prohibited from using PHI for marketing activities that are related to the sale of PHI. This means that healthcare providers and insurance companies are not allowed to sell patient lists or other types of PHI to third parties for marketing purposes.

Finally, covered entities must also ensure that any PHI used in marketing activities is protected from unauthorized access or disclosure. This means that PHI must be encrypted and that access to PHI must be restricted to authorized personnel only.




In summary, HIPAA regulations on marketing activities aim to protect individuals' privacy and personal health information by requiring covered entities to obtain explicit written consent, provide individuals with an opportunity to opt-out, prohibit the sale of PHI, and ensure that PHI is protected from unauthorized access.

It's important to note that these regulations are in place to ensure that individuals' personal health information is used only in ways they have agreed to, and that they have the right to control how their information is used. It's crucial for healthcare providers and insurance companies to comply with these regulations and handle personal information with care and respect for patients' privacy.

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