Navigating HIPAA Compliance: Crucial Considerations for Digital Marketers

In today’s digital landscape, marketers face the challenge of creating effective campaigns while ensuring compliance with industry-specific regulations. For in-house teams or agencies working with healthcare companies, the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act (HIPAA) presents unique considerations. In this article, we will delve into the essential factors that marketers must keep in mind when building digital marketing funnels for HIPAA-compliant companies.

However, it is important to note that the information here serves as a general guide — we always strongly recommend consulting with a legal team well-versed in HIPAA regulations before running campaigns. They can provide specific guidance tailored to your organization’s needs.


Understanding HIPAA Compliance

HIPAA includes provisions such as:

  • Privacy Rule: Establishes national standards for the protection of individuals’ medical records and other personal health information. It sets limits on the use and disclosure of such information and gives patients certain rights over their data — including its usage within digital marketing campaigns.
  • Security Rule: Focuses on safeguarding electronic protected health information (ePHI) and requires covered entities to implement security measures to ensure confidentiality, integrity, and availability of ePHI.
  • Breach Notification Rule: Requires covered entities to notify affected individuals, the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS), and sometimes the media in the event of a breach of unsecured protected health information.

For marketers working with HIPAA-compliant organizations, familiarize yourself with the types of data covered by HIPAA and the restrictions it imposes on data use and disclosure. Understanding these regulations will form the foundation for building compliant digital campaigns.


Audience Targeting and Segmentation on Meta and Instagram

Meta and Instagram provide powerful advertising platforms that enable marketers to reach specific target audiences. However, when working with HIPAA-compliant companies, it is important to handle patient data with care: Meta pixels for advertising cannot be installed on pages with HIPAA-compliant password protected portals, and the platform has additional “special ad categories” that further limit some demographic targeting. Here are some considerations for building effective campaigns:

  1. Segmentation: Under HIPAA, organizations cannot leverage medically sensitive data (for example, patient symptoms) to segment digital campaigns. Effective segmentation can still be achieved using non-sensitive information such as demographics, interests, and behaviors. By focusing on these factors rather than health-related data, marketers can maintain compliance while still reaching their intended audience. For example, if your clinic specializes in a condition that usually affects men over the age of 65, you could target individuals who fit those demographic parameters within ~50 miles of your location — without revealing specific health conditions.
  2. Stay away from Lookalike and Custom Audience targeting: Many popular advertising platforms are still not HIPAA-compliant, including Meta and Instagram. To avoid using personally identifiable information that could violate HIPAA regulations, stay away from Custom Audiences and Lookalike audiences — even though they only require you to upload patient email addresses, because the platform is noncompliant, it’s against HIPAA regulations to leverage these tools.
  3. Ad Content: Carefully consider the information included in your ad creative. Avoid direct references to health conditions, treatments, or personal data that could potentially violate HIPAA regulations. Stick to general messaging that adheres to privacy guidelines and focuses on the benefits of your products or services rather than individual health profiles.


Ad Campaigns with Google Ads

Google Ads offers marketers a range of tools to effectively reach their target audience. However, they have a number of restrictions for various healthcare/pharmaceutical ads that they have to adhere to, in addition to HIPAA, which you can find here. When creating campaigns for HIPAA-compliant companies, consider the following:

  1. Anonymization: Similar to other platforms, ensure that any data used for targeting is anonymized and aggregated. Avoid the use of PII or any health-related information. Instead, focus on broader criteria such as location, interests, or search intent.
  2. Geo-targeting: Leverage geo-targeting to focus your campaigns on specific regions or locations. This allows for targeting relevant audiences without relying on sensitive data. For example, you can target users in specific cities or regions where your services are available.
  3. Copy Buildout: Be mindful of HIPAA regulations when building copy for your ads. Avoid using terms directly related to specific health conditions, treatments, or PII that may identify individuals. Instead, focus on more generic keywords that still align with your target audience’s interests.
  4. Display and Landing Pages: It is crucial to ensure that the content displayed in your ads and on your landing pages complies with HIPAA guidelines. Avoid revealing personal information or making health-related claims that could potentially violate the regulations. Use generic visuals and messaging that highlight the benefits of your products or services without disclosing specific patient information.


Email Marketing Platforms and Segmentation Strategies

Email marketing remains a powerful tool for engaging with warm audiences. When working with HIPAA-compliant companies, consider the following:

  1. Choose a HIPAA-Compliant Email Marketing Platform: Select an email marketing platform that offers HIPAA compliance features and supports the necessary safeguards for data security and privacy. Look for platforms that adhere to strict encryption and storage protocols to protect patient data. Of note, HubSpot is not currently HIPAA compliant. In fact, their terms of service prohibit the use of HubSpot for sensitive patient information. As an alternative, ActiveCampaign in particular offers a HIPAA-Compliant version of the tool at their Enterprise level.
  2. Segmentation: Segment your email lists based on non-sensitive information such as demographics, preferences, or engagement levels. By tailoring your content to specific segments, you can provide more personalized and relevant experiences without violating HIPAA regulations.
  3. Consent and Opt-Out: Clearly outline the purpose of your emails and obtain explicit consent from subscribers to receive health-related content. Provide a straightforward opt-out process to ensure compliance with HIPAA regulations and respect patient privacy preferences. Additionally, offer options for subscribers to choose the types of content they wish to receive, allowing for further segmentation based on their interests — not their existing medical information.