Technology

How HIPAA Applies to Social Media Marketing

Social media marketing is the most powerful marketing tool in today’s business world. Businesses across several industries are making the best use of social media platforms to market their products, and the healthcare industry is no exception. It offers medical practices and other organizations endless opportunities to build on their brand and connect with people on platforms like Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter.

The biggest advantage of these platforms is that it lets you connect with your audience 24/7 and in a manner that seems authentic and familiar to them. With just about any budget, you can start social media marketing. Businesses that are not taking advantage of social media marketing are missing out on reaching billions of customers. 

Why does it matter?

Online review sites and directories can greatly influence people’s decisions when choosing a healthcare provider. The number of patients using sites like Google reviews and Yelp to select a provider has increased dramatically in recent years. A study conducted by the Pew Research Center found that almost 80% of online users use Facebook Recommendations to look up information about healthcare providers. Another study conducted by Vitals revealed that about 85% of patients are more likely to choose a doctor over another based on their ratings. 

Healthcare providers who use social media and digital marketing have the upper hand in terms of market reach. However, healthcare providers must follow the HIPAA Rules in their social media marketing advertisements. But how does HIPAA apply to social media marketing? Let’s find out.

What does HIPAA say about social media marketing?

When it comes to HIPAA and social media marketing, there are two things that healthcare organizations must understand.

  • A patient may post whatever they want on any social media platform.
  • Posts made by patients does not confirm a patient-healthcare provider relationship.

A few tips to stay HIPAA compliant when using social media

Here are some simple, yet effective ways to stay HIPAA compliant when using social media marketing.

Written policies and procedures on social media usage

Healthcare organizations must develop policies and procedures corresponding to HIPAA rules and regulations. However, these policies should also include how to appropriately use social media when communicating with customers or when organizations market their services or products. Policies should be readily available to all staff members.

Review and update your social media policy

The policies and procedures should be reviewed regularly and updated accordingly with the latest guidelines surrounding social media usage. It is also essential to include social media policy in the annual HIPAA risk analysis.

Delegate tasks

Appoint someone who will be responsible for posting photos, updating status, and responding to current and potential customers. If needed, identify a backup social media manager. Draft a few ready-made responses. It will help your staff to stay in compliance with HIPAA when using social media.

Being cautious before confirming patient-provider relationships

A simple thank you is more than enough when responding to patients’ reviews. In case they leave a negative review, be respectful, and reply promptly, however, do not confirm the patient-provider relationship with the patient just yet. Instead, invite them to reach out to you using other means or offline. 

Be wary of comments that may violate HIPAA law

There should be a clear guideline for what can be and cannot be posted on social media pages. Even if someone else posts PHI on your business page, the responsibility is still yours to delete or moderate those comments. Therefore, be certain that comments containing PHI are removed immediately from the social media pages.

Do not market patient testimonials without their consent

Many medical practices will screenshot patient reviews and will use them for advertisement. This is absolutely inappropriate. A patient can post whatever they want wherever they want, but that does not mean you can utilize this content, especially if the information contains PHI. In short, before using patient testimonials or reviews on your social media pages and website, make sure you obtain their authorization.

Use Google or Yelp reviews to link out from your website

Reviews help build online credibility with prospective patients who are looking for healthcare services. This is why it is important to respond to reviews and comments on social media pages and sites like Google and Yelp. However, instead of directly publishing patient reviews on your website, you can link them out to review websites. Simply create 5-star review polls with a link out to a review site. This way you can show off your reviews and stay HIPAA compliant at the same time.

Avoid communicating with patients outside the office

The best way to stay HIPAA compliant is to avoid interacting with patients on personal social media accounts. Make sure to make your account private and try to avoid accepting friends or follow requests from patients. But most importantly, your staff members should also understand why they should avoid contacting patients outside the office.

Final Takeaway

The onus of HIPAA compliance requirements and expectations can be confusing and difficult to understand, especially concerning social media marketing, as there is no specific law for the topic. Even though the penalties for violating patient privacy can be severe, healthcare practices should not abandon social media marketing in fear of infringing. There are plenty of ways to be to successfully use social media marketing in healthcare in a way that protects the privacy of patients. If implemented correctly, social media marketing can be the game-changer for that particular healthcare organization.

The number of healthcare providers using social media platforms to market their products and services will eventually increase with time. However, complying with HIPAA is essential to not only protect patients’ information but to also earn their trust. With the right tool and knowledge, it is very easy to ensure compliance. Even if you have very little knowledge about HIPAA, you can rely on third-party service providers or even use HIPAA compliance software to streamline your compliance efforts. Just make sure to do your research before opting for third-party options.

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