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HIPAA Marketing Compliance for Physical Therapy Practices

The HIPAA Privacy Rule sets certain regulations on healthcare marketing. Here's what to know to ensure your PT practice's marketing is HIPAA-compliant.

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HIPAA Marketing Compliance for Physical Therapy Practices

It goes without saying that a solid marketing strategy is a necessary component for any business to gain and maintain client attention. However, physical therapy practices can face significant challenges and legal risks regarding HIPAA compliance in healthcare marketing.

To avoid costly HIPAA violations, physical therapists must make a conscious effort to create HIPAA-compliant marketing campaigns. HIPAA regulations apply to all types of marketing activities, from email marketing to social media posts. Here's what you need to know about HIPAA rules for marketing.

HIPAA and Marketing

The Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act (HIPAA) was enacted in 1996 to establish and enforce healthcare standards for how a patient’s protected health information (PHI) must be secured by professionals. PHI details protected under these laws include identifiable patient information, including but not limited to patient name, address, billing, and health history.

When discussing HIPAA compliance in physical therapy advertising, these protective laws dictate how professionals can use PHI for marketing purposes. In particular, the HIPAA Privacy Rule defines marketing as any communication about a product or service that encourages recipients to purchase or use the product or service. The Privacy Rule states that healthcare professionals must acquire written authorization before using patient PHI for marketing materials.

A physical therapy practice can face HIPAA marketing violations when failing to gain explicit written patient consent for:

  • Mentioning patient names
  • Using geographic identifiers such as counties, cities, addresses, and zip codes
  • Displaying confidential dates, including admission dates and birth years
  • Exposing administrative details such as health plan numbers and driver's licenses
  • Utilizing biometric identifiers such as photos, fingerprints, and voiceprints

HIPAA marketing rules apply to marketing on any medium, creating several opportunities for accidental violations. Therefore, all PT professionals looking to implement a robust marketing campaign must remain conscious of compliance needs across all potential platforms. Here are the details to keep in mind.

HIPAA-Compliant Websites

As the focal point of multiple marketing efforts, your physical therapy practice website is an excellent starting point when working towards full HIPAA marketing compliance. To protect critical PHI that is collected for patient intake and potential marketing through your practice website, some of the primary HIPAA physical therapy guidelines to follow are the encryption requirements.

Any patient data, whether it's gathered through an appointment request form, contact form, or patient portal, must meet the minimum encryption standards established by HIPAA. To simplify this process, physical therapy practices should leverage EMR software with HIPAA compliance features. These tools ensure several physical and digital security layers protect patient data.

Aside from securely storing PHI on an EMR solution or encrypted server, physical therapy practices should also maintain an offsite backup as an added layer of protection. To demonstrate full HIPAA website compliance to current and potential patients, physical therapists should include a note on their website's privacy policy page.

HIPAA Compliant Email Marketing

Physical therapy email marketing is one of the most cost-effective and reliable marketing tools to funnel new and past patients into your practice doors. That said, there are several dos and don'ts for HIPAA-compliant email marketing that PTs must bear in mind.

When creating physical therapy email marketing material, the key HIPAA compliance requirement is that PTs must meet the explicit use of PHI. Under the HIPAA Privacy Ruling, any broadly distributed email marketing materials must not mention a patient's PHI, such as details regarding a specific treatment or condition, unless the patient gives explicit permission.

Regarding patient permission, HIPAA marketing rules also require physical therapy professionals to first obtain prior authorization before distributing any marketing materials. This written acknowledgment must demonstrate that a patient has agreed to your practice of sending them email marketing materials regarding your physical therapy services.

As with the data collected via a practice website, PT professionals who use email marketing services must also ensure the solution is completely HIPAA compliant. It must offer only secure and encrypted email distribution to patients. Likewise, any email data containing PHI, such as name and address, must be securely stored on an encrypted server and on an offsite backup.

HIPAA Compliant Social Media Marketing

Among the many marketing mediums that could potentially put a physical therapist at risk of HIPAA privacy violations, social media marketing poses some of the largest risks. Due to the high visibility and accelerated reach of social media marketing, professionals must abide by several HIPAA marketing practices to protect PHI from improper use at all times.

The office staff responsible for maintaining a practice's Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter accounts must be educated on HIPAA compliance and instructed to never take photos in office locations where PHI could be visible to viewers. This process should also include developing a HIPAA-compliant social media policy that employees must sign to declare the limits on what can be posted on personal and practice social media regarding PHI.

In addition to any general photos posted to a physical therapy practice's social media, all paid ads and general posts on a community wall must never expose any type of PHI. Suppose a physical therapy practice uses PHI for social media marketing purposes. In that case, they will first need to obtain explicit permission from a patient, just as they must for email marketing purposes.

The Bottom Line: Your Marketing is Only as Effective as Your Compliance

With the above HIPAA compliance factors in mind, it's clear that physical therapy marketing can only be as effective as your compliance efforts. Across the website, email, and social media marketing, physical therapists must have the proper compliance tools to avoid any costly legal troubles.

MWTherapy is here to help. With our practice management solution, physical therapists can stay in control of any compliance needs with a comprehensive toolbox that allows PTs to track and measure levels of compliance via a suite of robust reports. To learn more about how MWTherapy's compliance capabilities can elevate your PT marketing, contact us today to schedule a demo.

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