Digital marketing is an integral part of marketing that can set you up for success in the present digital world. Unfortunately, healthcare professionals may avoid using digital marketing strategies like social media for fear of violating HIPAA regulations. This causes them to miss out on the benefits of digital marketing.

The first step to realizing the potential of digital marketing is understanding how industry-specific guidelines like HIPAA affect your marketing activities. To help you make informed digital marketing and business decisions, read on for information on the impact of HIPAA on various digital marketing strategies.

Understanding Protected Health Information And HIPAA Compliance

HIPAA (Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act) controls the disclosure and use of protected health information to safeguard patients’ privacy. Note that protected health information (PHI) refers to any data that can reveal your patients’ identity.

The law not only applies to medical professionals but also to medical business associates like marketing agencies, websites, and CRMs. 

While a name is the most common way to identify a person, other details can reveal your patient’s identity. Most common private health information you should not disclose include.

  • Name and nicknames
  • Address
  • Geographical location
  • Vehicle details like license plate, model, make, and color
  • Photos
  • Fingerprints
  • Voiceprints
  • Dates that directly relate to a patient, such as date of birth
  • Full-face photographs
  • Contact information or any identifying numbers like medical record number, phone number, social security number, and account number

To remain HIPAA-compliant, you must guarantee the confidentiality of private health information. Also, put measures to prevent threats to data security and unpermitted use or disclosure of patients’ sensitive information.

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How HIPAA Affects Digital Marketing

About 90% of people go to search engines when they need help with healthcare queries and concerns. With this in mind, you can leverage your online presence to widen your reach and give your practice or healthcare services more exposure.

However, you need to do so in a way that complies with HIPAA regulations. To ensure you get the best out of the internet without running the risk of non-compliance, here’s how HIPPAA affects digital marketing.

1. Social Media

Social media is an excellent avenue to increase your reach and connect with people interested in your products or services. You can also get referrals and recommendations from social media, as most people use platforms like Facebook and Twitter to look for new practices or recommendations.

However, you need to maintain HIPAA regulations on social media to ensure you remain in compliance. For example, you need written consent before posting pictures or videos, and you need to ensure they do not violate HIPAA regulations by passing them through an attorney for review.

To be safe, consider using relevant stock images. On the same note, all your communications on any social media platform should be secure. It is against the law to message a patient over Facebook Messenger or any other social network. Lastly, separate your professional and personal lives on social media. Avoid adding your patients as friends, tagging them on social networks, or writing to them directly on their profiles.

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The best way to reduce social media slip-ups is by creating a HIPAA social media marketing strategy. Remember to educate employees on what to post and what not to post before putting them in charge of social media campaigns.

2. Online Reviews

Asking for reviews and engaging with your patients is not prohibited by HIPAA, as long as you protect their privacy. Patient feedback provides insights into what your patients or clients think about your services or products.

You can use the information you get from patient feedback to boost your brand’s image and improve your offerings. However, your approach to online reviews must be within HIPAA’s guidelines.

As a rule of thumb, you should never ignore online reviews, whether positive or negative. Doing so reduces trust in your practice and paints a picture of a lack of accountability. Instead, use the following tips when handling online reviews to help you achieve your digital marketing goals while remaining compliant.

  • Keep the reviewers anonymous by not acknowledging that they are your patients.
  • Provide a short response to reduce your chances of disclosing too much information
  • When a reviewer or patient unnecessarily provides too much information, it is best to take the conversation offline. Give the reviewer the contact details of someone they can reach offline to discuss their concerns.
  • Avoid sharing the online reviews on other platforms

Consider creating a feedback template that adheres to HIPAA regulations to prevent including PHI in your responses.

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3. Email Marketing

You can engage your patients and maintain them through email marketing campaigns. If you use email to promote your products and services, your marketing should comply with HIPAA rules. Here are a few ways to ensure your email marketing campaign does not violate HIPAA guidelines.

  • Do not include patient information on the campaign without obtaining the patient’s written consent.
  • Encrypt emails containing personal details with an offsite backup so that only the sender and the receiver can access the contents of the email.
  • When sending emails through third-party tools, ensure they are compliant with HIPAA and have them sign a Business Associate Agreement.
  • Avoid sending emails to patients without their consent. When creating your email list, ask the patient whether they would like to receive emails from your practice. Also, make it easy to unsubscribe from the emails.

Note that security breaches can affect your practice regardless of how protected you think it is. Therefore, always inform your patients about the potential risks of mail communications and sharing PHI electronically.


Your digital marketing campaigns should give you the exposure your need, set you apart from the competition, and align with HIPAA guidelines. With the above information, you can channel your efforts toward attaining your digital marketing goals without compromising your practice and career.