Telemarketing in Healthcare: How Privacy & HIPAA Get Factored In

Telemarketing has become an integral part of various other industries, including healthcare. The ability to reach out to patients and clients via telephone offers unprecedented opportunities for engagement, appointment setting, and disseminating critical information. Since it provided a safer way to communicate, the pandemic allowed “telehealth” services to become more generally accepted and it therefore experienced significant growth. 

In fact, a publication from the National Library of Medicine noted that, “In 2019, the US telehealth market was valued at an estimated US $11.23 billion; by 2020, this has increased to US $17.9 billion…” 

Nevertheless, the healthcare sector must also navigate a separate and complex landscape of patient privacy regulations, most notably the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act (HIPAA). Accordingly, it is important to be aware of some critical considerations that healthcare organizations must heed when employing telemarketing strategies.

HIPAA and Telemarketing

HIPAA is the cornerstone of patient privacy protection within the healthcare industry. It sets stringent standards for collecting, using, and disclosing protected health information (PHI). 

While telemarketing can be a potent tool, healthcare organizations must tread carefully to maintain compliance.

To get an idea of how serious a HIPAA violation can be, one need only look at what happened to a California medical institution called Cottage Health. Essentially, the company experienced two security breaches that exposed the electronic Protected Health Information (ePHI) of 62,500 patients. Apparently, this occurred because they left a significant internal server unprotected, granting internet access to anyone without the need for credentials. 

Another incident occurred in 2015. A server misconfiguration took place when the IT team inadvertently removed server protections while addressing a troubleshooting issue. Following investigations by the Office for Civil Rights (OCR), Cottage Health was found in violation of HIPAA’s Security Rules and was fined $3 million. The primary violations were related to the failure to conduct organizational risk assessments to identify and address security risks and vulnerabilities in safeguarding PHI. Cottage Health was also penalized for not having a business associate agreement in place with a third-party contractor responsible for handling PHI. 

HIPAA mandates that all parties handling PHI remain compliant, and organizations are responsible for ensuring compliance among their third-party associates.

Although a telemarketing company that works within the healthcare industry is already accountable to the TCPA and the various regulations put forth by the FTC, those involved in this vertical also have to consider patient authorization and data security. 

HIPAA mandates that patient health information cannot be used for marketing without the patient’s explicit written consent. This requirement applies to telemarketing activities as well, so patient authorization is essential before marketing communications involving their health information can occur. Protecting patient data during telemarketing interactions is paramount. Secure methods of storing and transmitting patient information must be adopted, employing encryption and robust security measures to prevent unauthorized access or breaches.

Complying with HIPAA

Organizations can take the following steps to leverage telemarketing effectively in the healthcare sector while complying with HIPAA regulations. 

  1. Obtain Patient Authorization –  Before a patient’s private information can be used for marketing purposes, the patient must provide written consent. It must also be informed, specific, and voluntary. 
  2. Data Security: When patient data is being used, the company must implement appropriate security measures. It must be protected when it is stored and transmitted. Companies often use encryption to prevent data breaches. 
  3. Inspect What You Expect: Provide comprehensive training to telemarketers about HIPAA regulations, patient privacy, and the ethical use of patient data for marketing purposes.

Cove Law, P.A., Has Been Defending Telemarketers for almost 30 Years 

Telemarketing, when approached with care and a keen understanding of HIPAA regulations, can be a powerful tool for healthcare organizations to enhance patient engagement and communication. By securing patient consent, prioritizing data security, and educating telemarketing teams, healthcare providers can harness the benefits of telemarketing while respecting patient privacy. 

Cove Law, P.A. is your partner in navigating these intricate waters and ensuring your telemarketing strategies align seamlessly with HIPAA compliance. Contact us today for a free consultation and discover how we can help safeguard your telemarketing endeavors.

Andrew Cove
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