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How to write a great HIPAA compliant subject line

How to write a great HIPAA compliant subject line

When it comes to HIPAA and healthcare email marketing, all parts of an email must abide by HIPAA regulations. This includes the subject line. While HIPAA does not explicitly mention them, they can still pose risks to patient privacy if not handled carefully. A great HIPAA compliant subject line can help shape the success of healthcare email campaigns.

Impressive HIPAA compliant subject lines in healthcare email marketing guide recipients toward valuable information and foster connections between providers and patients.

Learn aboutHIPAA compliant email marketing: What you need to know


Effective healthcare email marketing

HIPAA mandates safeguarding patients' protected health information (PHI), including in all marketing interactions. Generally, if a communication is "marketing," it can occur only if a covered entity first obtains an individual's consent. Likewise, an organization must strictly follow all HIPAA provisions on email security. This includes fortifying all emails with encryption in transit and at rest. 

Once secure, sending a HIPAA compliant email becomes integral to proper communication between healthcare professionals and their patients. The goal is to ensure the confidentiality, integrity, and availability of PHI while still allowing for access and use. Email marketing can be effective because it:

  • Keeps an organization in the forefront of patients' minds
  • Actively engages patients and reminds them to consider their health needs
  • Offers an opportunity to share best health practices and advice
  • Disseminates crucial information to patients and other practitioners
  • Allows patients to easily forward organizational information to friends and family
  • Presents a direct channel to patients and prospective patients

Every part of a healthcare email plays a role in successful email marketing, including the subject line.


The subject line of a HIPAA compliant email

Email subject lines are visible even before an email is opened. They are displayed in an email inbox and can be seen in notifications on some devices, too. Specific details or identifiable information within a subject line may expose PHI and open organizations to HIPAA violations.

Therefore, like an email body, healthcare organizations must be careful when creating subject lines. After enabling strong technical controls, organizations must also keep staff up to date on email policies and maintain communication trails. 

As for a subject itself, it is a preview offering a glimpse into an email's content and must be treated as such. Organizations should use nondescriptive language and avoid specific medical details, diagnoses, and/or treatment information. Instead of saying, "Regarding your recent lab results," they should say, "Follow-up on recent appointment." Moreover, organizations should convey the purpose of an email without revealing PHI. Instead of writing, "Your mammogram is next week," they should state, "Appointment reminder for next week."

Subject lines in healthcare must balance the need for informative communication with patient privacy and sensitivity. Adhering to regulations and guidelines while conveying necessary information is a challenge that well-crafted subject lines can successfully address.

NoteHealthcare marketers using a HIPAA compliant marketing solution, like Paubox Marketing, may include PHI in a subject line. Because the entire email, including the subject line, is encrypted in transit, it's considered HIPAA compliant. 


Benefits of a great subject line

well-crafted subject line can be a compass, guiding diverse recipients toward emails that directly address their interests. Personalized, tailored subjects address specific needs, concerns, and interests while showcasing an organization's commitment to patient well-being. A great healthcare email marketing subject line can guide recipients toward valuable information and foster better provider-patient connections.

This, in turn, helps organizations effectively care for and engage with patients who want to trust their doctors. In other words, a great subject line may even promote preventative care and wellness, impacting patient engagement. Moreover, by being HIPAA compliant, an organization ensures that their patients' information remains secure.

See also: Using email to personalize messaging during the patient journey


The Dos of a great HIPAA compliant subject line

Even with HIPAA regulations to follow, it is possible to write a great HIPAA compliant subject line. Use these dos to ensure your chosen subject line is HIPAA compliant and well written.

  • Do avoid sensitive information while still conveying the purpose and need for the email.
  • Do keep the subject personalized and tailored.
  • Do explain what you are sending in about 10 words: be clear, concise, and specific.
  • Do make your subject punchy while still communicating the reason for the email.
  • Do be captivating and relevant with your writing.
  • Do stay away from unsubstantiated claims or promises; stay accurate, evidence-based, and HIPAA compliant.
  • Do make every subject unique and stay away from generic, repetitive phrases.
  • Do steer clear of overly familiar language; don't attempt to establish a personal relationship that can be inappropriate and raise ethical concerns.
  • Do keep away from unsolicited medical advice or recommendations.

Failure to pique interest from the start may lead to low open rates and less engagement. Poor subject lines are the shortest way to end up in a reader's trash folder. Furthermore, an uncompliant HIPAA subject line is the quickest way to end up on the U.S. Office for Civil Rights Wall of Shame.

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