The Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act, better known as HIPAA, can add an extra level of work to drug rehab marketing.
When you’re trying to strategically target those who may have drug problems and those who are showing early signs of those problems, you might feel like you’re walking a tightrope—and the addition of HIPAA compliance can feel like someone else stepping onto that tightrope with you, throwing you off-balance.
Yet complying with HIPAA is essential for drug rehabilitation centers. If people feel their most personal information is being used to target them, or the ads seem to use this information in a very conspicuous manner, you can bet nostrils are flaring. This has the potential to bring your rehab thousands of dollars in fines.
And often, to avoid upsetting your target market and getting in the crosshairs of HIPAA regulators, most addiction treatment marketing teams sit on the sidelines timidly running Google Ads and maybe even SEO. It may be that those tactics seem to get you leads; however, you don’t want to depend on ‘what you’ve always done’ and risk being shut down by regulators.
Read on to see how this misunderstood fear of HIPAA stunts your treatment center’s growth.
Google Ads and SEO are targeting those in crisis 95% of the time, with keywords like “drug rehab centers,” “alcohol rehabs in Spokane,” “prescription drug addiction treatment center,” and more…the list goes on. The other 5% of targeting might be for other keywords, either earlier or later in the customer journey—but that’s a blog post for another day.
However, the pool of people actually searching is limited. It’s also highly competitive because other drug rehabs are doing exactly what you are. Additionally, it’s expensive, because Google sees the supply and demand misalignment and capitalizes on that.
So you stick to SEO, but you’re afraid of doing any other kind of digital marketing because you worry about the implications of HIPAA. You want to retarget because you know how valuable that is, but you just don’t.
However, HIPAA is designed to not reveal Protected Health Information (PHI). So as long as you can ensure that someone doesn’t think they’re being targeted directly because of their addiction or their visit to your rehab website, you’re not in violation. And that right there is the single most important tenet.
Simply put, HIPAA was passed in 1996 with the goal of protecting patient privacy. It aims to keep the medical information of patients safe and secure, through data privacy measures and security provisions.
There are five sections of HIPAA:
Marketing through email platforms and tools like Gmail, MailChimp and Outlook is not HIPAA compliant because these platforms will not sign a business associate contract (BAA). If you’re utilizing these platforms for your marketing, be cautious with how you go forward, and look into options that do comply.
Someone fills out a form on your website to be contacted and starts getting emails and SMS messages from your rehab.
Very granular copy on display/banner ads for your rehab where you call out any of the personally identifiable information. Be it condition, gender or even location!
Taking a picture of your psychotherapist conducting a session at your rehab where the faces of the group members are seen and boosting it on social media
Showing geo-fenced ads at an addiction crisis center where the onus is on the creative being used. If your creative is something along the lines of “There is help: Addiction can be treated,” then you’re in violation.
At its best, HIPAA gives you the boundaries and framework in which to operate to safeguard the privacy of patients and their health information. Unfortunately, as its most common, HIPAA’s guidelines can be seen as written in chalk with smudges and blurs around the edges. If you’re new to healthcare marketing or haven’t had to actively monitor HIPAA-related marketing efforts, it’s good to have a basic understanding of what HIPAA is for marketers and how to apply that knowledge to marketing for a drug rehab brand.
Let’s go through what you should be doing in your HIPAA-compliant marketing, and what pitfalls to avoid at all costs.
When you’re brainstorming your marketing strategy, especially for one-to-many strategies, sit with your team. Really think from the ground up, with PHI in mind. What you should ask at every point is this: “Will the reader of my advertising think that they’re being explicitly targeted? If the answer is “No,” you can continue on. If it’s “Yes,” you need to reevaluate.
Don’t call out your target audience’s excruciating pain in your ads. Some mild, problem-centric advertising can work fine, yes—but try not to do that. If you do, people will automatically assume that they’re being targeted due to their condition…even if you’re targeting people in the entire state!
Second, don’t apply personalized retargeting to your ads. For rehabs, you can’t personalize your retargeting because if you do, you’re openly declaring that you’re aware of this specific visitor coming to your site since they’re addicted and now, you’re telling them to come on back. This is a problem because you’re utilizing PHI, or a variant of it—which isn’t compliant with HIPAA.
Third, do not pick at their problems. This won’t help you garner favor with your target audience.