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Measuring Healthcare Marketing Success with HIPAA-Compliant Tracking

The cost to retain existing patients will always be less expensive than the cost to acquire new patients. Even with the best retention strategy, patients may move away or decide on their own to try out new providers, which means you need to continue to pursue marketing activities to compensate for these patients lost to attrition. You also need to ensure that every use of your marketing budget provides the highest possible return. 

To encourage patients to regularly return for care, you need to assess why they decided to make appointments in the first place. Understanding these reasons can also help you better market to prospective patients. To learn more about existing and prospective patients and ensure continuous loyalty, it’s important to track your healthcare marketing strategy and define metrics that help measure your campaign success. 

Sophisticated data capture and analysis tell you what’s working and what’s not, allowing you to develop better ways to attract and influence patients. However, there’s a fine line between tracking the value of your marketing spend with modern marketing techniques and violating HIPAA regulations.

Several health systems facing lawsuits regarding data breach incidents have increased these digital health privacy concerns and the importance of HIPAA-compliant tracking. The investigative report co-published by the Markup and STAT found evidence that the Meta Pixel, a portion of JavaScript code that allows websites to track visitor activity, was being used on hundreds of hospital websites. The investigation also found that Meta Pixel was present on the websites of 33 out of the top 100 US hospitals and seven of them used tracking codes on patients’ portals behind the login walls without the patient’s knowledge or permission.

The unauthorized use of protected health data for marketing can have some serious consequences. Apart from fines reaching up to $1.9 million resulting from breaches of HIPAA and in some cases even criminal penalties, this can also damage patients’ trust and affect their relationship with their healthcare provider.

Still, to market effectively, you need to measure the success of your healthcare marketing. While it may seem that collecting healthcare marketing data while keeping your patient data protected and confidential is impossible, there are tactics that you can employ in your everyday marketing strategies. With HIPAA-compliant tracking, you can reach your patients, safely store information that may be considered PHI, and personalize your marketing automation campaigns to their needs and habits while measuring the return on your marketing efforts as a whole.

Consequences of Mishandling PHI

As healthcare marketing strategies continue to evolve, it’s becoming more common for healthcare providers to use web trackers and collect information from site users to understand effective marketing tactics and adjust their marketing spending. 

However, information disclosed by healthcare organizations to tracking technology vendors, such as Google and Facebook, may be considered PHI even if it doesn’t include specific treatment information. Due to the technical nature of website tracking technologies like the Meta Pixel, many healthcare providers are unaware of the full scope and extent of information being collected and disclosed in the process of using tracking tools.

Meta Pixel collects the data about your website visitors and sends it to Meta. Meta then categorizes the data to create target audience groups for your Facebook and Instagram advertising purposes and allows you to target the people who already interacted with your brand. The collected data contains an IP address that can potentially be used in combination with other data to identify an individual or household. Other data collected include patient names, home and email addresses, medical record numbers, appointment information, prescription details, and more. 

This puts healthcare organizations at risk of violating HIPAA and potentially other state and federal information privacy laws. The Markup identified seven health systems that had installed pixels inside their password-protected patient portals: Community Health Network, Edward-Elmhurst Health, FastMed, Novant Health, Piedmont, Renown Health, and WakeMed. As a result, class action lawsuits have recently been filed against these healthcare organizations and third parties such as Meta related to the use of technologies that are not in line with HIPAA-compliant tracking requirements.

Important HIPAA Guidelines

Placing tracking pixels on websites to identify visitors and enhance marketing efforts can pose immediate issues as most tracking systems store PHI in non-compliant online locations, with Google, Facebook, and other platforms. The use of Meta Pixel is the most recent example of mishandling PHI, but not the only marketing activity through which healthcare organizations may unknowingly violate patients’ privacy. 

HIPAA’s definition of marketing concerns interaction between a covered entity and an individual, meaning that data about your website visitors should be protected the same as if it came from your paying customers. Also, HIPAA’s definition of protected health information lists 18 types of data, including names, addresses, and medical records, but also user IDs and IPs often used to recognize visitors across channels. Using this information for marketing, in most cases, requires the patient’s authorization, but none of the popular advertising platforms provide an option to sign a Business Associate Agreement (BAA), a special kind of contract with a third party having HIPAA-compliant access to the PHI. 

All these factors limit the ways you can market in healthcare, especially when it comes to HIPAA-compliant tracking and other practices relying on user identifiers. That said, marketing to and attracting patients with full HIPAA compliance is not impossible even with privacy requirements limiting data analysis. HIPAA-integrated marketing software allows you to use HIPAA-compliant tracking methods when collecting the real data necessary to measure the success of your marketing campaigns while handling patient data and privacy according to appropriate guidelines.

Increase Your Marketing ROI with HIPAA-Compliant Tracking

Running HIPAA-compliant healthcare marketing campaigns is only one piece of the puzzle and to get the best results from your efforts, you also need to pay attention to what your marketing data says. Measuring your marketing efforts empowers you to make data-driven decisions by giving you access to insights from your marketing campaigns. As a result, you can offer personalized services, establish efficient communication, and provide an overall improved experience for your patients.

It’s often difficult to define which part of any marketing campaign directly increases a business’s bottom line and in healthcare, data security and privacy regulations pose an additional challenge, requiring you to use HIPAA-compliant tracking methods and ensure patient data remains appropriately protected. Still, with the right tools and strategies in place, you can easily move across HIPAA limits and eliminate compliance risks.

Measuring success in healthcare marketing gives you the information you need to make informed decisions based on knowing where your patients are coming from, identifying which of your marketing tactics work, and defining where to invest your efforts to keep up with the ever-changing healthcare landscape and your patients’ demands. SocialClimb provides you with a suite of HIPAA-compliant tracking tools to help you optimize your campaigns for maximum results and track the return on your marketing efforts so you can drive revenue while staying in HIPAA’s good graces.

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