There are a number of industries that have strict regulations for what they can and can't do in their marketing efforts. Except for vice advertising (alcohol, tobacco, etc.), most are regulated to keep individual's personal information private. But that doesn't mean your marketing efforts have to be less effective than those of other industries, it just means you need to follow some additional legal rules when developing your marketing.
If you are doing healthcare regional marketing, you have to follow HIPAA regulations and chances are you don't have a huge team of lawyers that a national healthcare company has at their disposal. And what's okay in one region may not be okay in another. The key for you to create effective marketing without running into trouble is making sure everyone on your team (internal and external) fully understands the rules. This becomes especially important when you move into areas like content, blogging and social media – where a lot of content is created, sometimes in real time. The people interacting with customers or sharing their stories have to know exactly what can and can't be put out there in the public – and how to take a customer offline if they start to reveal private information in a public forum.
The easiest solution is to make sure everyone on the marketing team is HIPAA certified. For our medical clients, the marketing and social media teams go through HIPAA certifications and have to renew their certification every year. The client just sets up an account in their system for marketers and we take the certification course, same as their internal staff. Only those people are permitted to post in social media and develop marketing messages.
Healthcare is full of inspiring stories and sharing those stories are a good way to create an emotional connection to your brand or hospital. We've created some powerful videos of patients sharing their stories and how our hospital staff and doctors went above and beyond to help create, what was to them, a miracle. We created a complete campaign, including a microsite to house the video stories. But in order to use a patient's story, the HIPAA Privacy Rule requires an individual’s written authorization before a hospital can use or disclose any protected health information for marketing. It's that simple. You can share amazing patient stories that can inspire others to look to you for help, but you have to follow proper procedures.
Just last week, a physical therapy company in California got hit with fines and sanctions due to their use of patients faces and stories without having done the due diligence to get proper permission. It's a simple thing they could have done that would have saved them thousands of dollars.The one thing you absolutely can't do is disclose patient information. Patient confidentiality is paramount. Don’t use information that may disclose the identity of a patient without authorization. That is the key tenant of HIPAA requirements.
In healthcare regional marketing, you want to highlight your successes and show how your people help perform modern day miracles. But with HIPAA, you want to make sure you manage the expectations of those you're targeting with your marketing efforts. You can't over promise. You can't guarantee a cure or imply that you can cure a patient before you've met with them. It's a fine line, being able to talk about the wonderful things you do without making promises you don't know for sure you can keep.
The key to creating effective and engaging messaging is not to be afraid to do something different or go outside of the norm for healthcare marketing. Don't let HIPAA requirements scare you into safe, me-too communications. Once you have a thorough understanding of what is allowed and what isn't, you can push the boundaries of creativity without stepping over the lines of legality.
For more on healthcare marketing, here's a post on changing your payor mix by changing your media mix.