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5 Best HIPAA-Compliant Marketing Analytics Tools

With over 2.5 quintillion bytes released on the internet every day, data has evolved into an indispensable marketing asset for companies across all industries. For organizations in healthcare and wellness, data is instrumental in offering personalized services, establishing efficient communication, and providing an enhanced experience for patients. 

However, healthcare marketing is significantly influenced by data security and privacy regulations, as these companies are obliged to guarantee that the tools in their marketing stack are HIPAA-compliant to prevent substantial violations and severe penalties.

Navigating HIPAA-compliant marketing in the US healthcare sector is a complex task. Enterprises need to be exceptionally cautious with their marketing tools to ensure no breach of data security and privacy regulations. This guide will navigate you through the intricacies of HIPAA and its significance, and provide a selection of leading HIPAA-compliant marketing analytics tools utilized in healthcare marketing to ensure you maintain compliance.

Key Takeaways

  • HIPAA is a U.S. federal law designed to protect sensitive patient data from unauthorized use, fraud, and abuse. The law applies to healthcare providers, health plans, healthcare clearinghouses, and any external vendors collaborating with these entities.
  • When it comes to marketing, HIPAA strictly governs the use of Protected Health Information (PHI), like email, IP address, name, or phone number, in every activity, including paid campaigns, marketing analytics, or messaging personalization.
  • To maintain compliance and avoid severe penalties, healthcare businesses must utilize HIPAA-compliant marketing analytics platforms.
  • Improvado is a HIPAA-compliant marketing analytics solution, automating the entire marketing reporting and serving as a centerpiece for robust and secure data management in healthcare marketing. 

HIPAA—What Is It, and What Businesses Does it Cover?

The Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act of 1996 (HIPAA) is a federal statute enacted in the United States (US) to safeguard sensitive patient data from unjustified usage, fraud, and misappropriation.

HIPAA is specific to the healthcare industry in the US, with its primary objective being to enforce a stringent check on individuals and organizations in the health industry that collect, manage, or disseminate protected health information (PHI) and electronic protected health information (ePHI) without authorization from their patients.

  • PHI refers to critical personal health information like medical histories, laboratory results, mental health conditions, and other information used to diagnose and prescribe the appropriate treatment.
  • ePHI is the patient’s data that is created, stored, and transmitted in electronic format. Prominent examples of ePHI are medical records, IP addresses, and phone numbers. 

Here’s a roundup of the businesses covered by HIPAA:

  • Healthcare Providers: Ranging from doctors, psychologists, clinics, dentists, chiropractors, and nursing homes, to pharmacies, as long as they are involved in electronic transactions that manipulate healthcare data.
  • Health Plans: These include health insurance companies, HMOs, company health plans, Medicare, Medicaid, and military healthcare programs.
  • Healthcare Clearinghouses: These include organizations that facilitate other businesses in transforming non-standard health information into standard formats and vice versa.

These groups of businesses are referred to as “covered entities” under HIPAA. 

Also, any external entity that partners with covered entities in executing health-related activities is labeled as a “business associate” under HIPAA, and such entity must sign a business associate agreement (BAA) stating that they’re aware of and will abide by the regulations provided by HIPAA.

If you’re unsure whether or not your business is covered by HIPAA, the Covered Entities Chart is a useful tool that can help you determine that.

How Do HIPAA Regulations Affect Marketing?

Marketing is essential to healthcare businesses that want to build relationships with prospects, create better experiences for existing patients, and gain authority within the industry.

However, due to HIPAA’s strict privacy and security regulations, marketing activities are run a bit differently in the healthcare industry.

While running or analyzing marketing campaigns, you need to be certain that all HIPAA rules are duly observed, as minor oversights can cost you between $100 to $50,000 in penalties for each violation

HIPAA gives patients control over how healthcare businesses access and use their protected health information (PHI) for marketing purposes. For the most part, HIPAA requires individual consent and authorization before the use or disclosure of said individual’s PHI for marketing-related activities.

The main objective is to protect patients from unsolicited use of their personal health data and to ensure they feel as safe as possible while dealing with healthcare professionals.

Information described as PHI by HIPAA:

  1. Email addresses
  2. Device identifiers and serial numbers
  3. IP addresses
  4. Phone numbers
  5. Biometric identifiers
  6. Names
  7. Medical record numbers

Apart from doing your due diligence internally, HIPAA requires that you guarantee the security of your patients’ data by using only HIPAA-compliant platforms. HIPAA-compliant solutions refer to tools with well-defined structures and processes for maintaining the privacy and security of patient data under HIPAA’s rules. Using these will ensure you do not inadvertently expose your organization to potential lawsuits.

Best Tools For Your Healthcare Marketing Analytics Stack

Adopting a HIPAA-compliant marketing analytics tool will not only optimize your campaigns for peak performance but also ensure your organization stays clear of any HIPAA-related complications.

To fast-track your search, we’ve done the heavy lifting for you and outlined five of the best HIPAA-compliant marketing analytics solutions you can start using today.

But first, let's revise some concepts related to HIPAA-compliant data management – data controller and data processor.

The data controller is like the captain of a ship, steering the direction in which data flows and making high-level decisions regarding its handling and processing. The data controller is typically your organization itself - as you're the one deciding why and how the patient data will be used. It's the data controller's responsibility to ensure that data is being handled in a manner that adheres to HIPAA guidelines.

The data processor, on the other hand, could be seen as the crew that makes the captain's orders come to life. When you're using a HIPAA-compliant marketing tool, that tool acts as your data processor. They carry out tasks involving personal data, following the guidelines set by you, the data controller.

That’s why, as an organization in the healthcare industry, you cannot and should not just put any analytics tool into your marketing stack without properly vetting its HIPAA compliance. And even if a marketing analytics tool claims to be HIPAA compliant, it’s your responsibility to outline measures and procedures to follow.


Improvado is a HIPAA-compliant marketing analytics solution

Improvado is an advanced marketing analytics solution that automates all possible data processes and thus helps data-driven teams within healthcare enterprises gain a deep understanding of their marketing performance and derive actionable insights.

The platform makes it easy for healthcare and wellness organizations to aggregate, store, and analyze data across all channels, audience segments, and geographic regions in a HIPAA-compliant manner. 

  • Improvado centralizes data from over 500 data sources, including other HIPAA-compliant tools mentioned later in the article.
  • The platform then brings data to analysis-ready condition by applying data transformations (no-code and easy-to-use for non-technical marketers) and pushes it to a desired destination. For example, Improvado can push your data to Tableau where your team can further analyze the performance and what drives conversions. 

Ultimately, by leveraging Improvado, your marketing team will have a HIPAA-compliant solution to track appointments that come from social media ads, email marketing or paid search campaigns, launch remarketing campaigns that meet HIPAA privacy regulations, and continuously improve your marketing performance.

How does Improvado handle HIPAA compliance?

On a high level, Improvado's role in HIPAA compliance focuses on maintaining privacy and protecting patient information from unauthorized access and usage. This is achieved by giving admin users full control over who gets access to patient data and what they can do with the data accessible to them.

If we dig deeper, Improvado has a robust framework for protecting sensitive information, that includes the following data privacy and security standards: 

  • Robust encryption: Improvado incorporates solid encryption measures to protect health information, both during transfer and while at rest, which ensures that even if the data is intercepted or accessed without authorization, it will be unreadable and therefore useless to the intruder. 
  • Business Associate Agreements (BAAs): When a HIPAA-covered organization  works with  solutions like Improvado, they usually need to have a Business Associate Agreement (BAA) in place. This is a legally binding document that spells out the responsibilities of each party, data controller and data processor,  when it comes to protecting PHI. The outline of the agreement is usually coming from a client, but in case you need assistance, the Improvado information security and privacy  team can provide a template.   
  • Regular audits and risk assessments: Compliance isn't a one-time deal. Improvado conducts regular audits and risk evaluations to identify and address system vulnerabilities, ensuring ongoing adherence to HIPAA regulations.
  • Staff training and policies: At Improvado, team members are well-versed in policies and procedures for handling PHI, which is a critical component of maintaining compliance.
  • Secure data disposal: Once data is no longer needed, Improvado ensures it's securely disposed of, preventing any potential recovery and misuse.
  • Breach Notification Procedures: Although Improvado takes every step to avoid breaches, there's a robust plan in place to promptly notify clients of any instances and mitigate any potential damage, should a breach occur.

As mentioned above, HIPAA compliance is maintained by both parties. In the case of Improvado, a marketing analytics tool with over 500 data connectors, staying compliant from its own end is not enough. To ensure that your entire healthcare marketing stack is HIPAA-compliant, you must ensure that all of your data sources comply with established privacy and security rules. This is because if one of your data sources falls short in security, accountability, and privacy, your entire marketing stack will be affected, and it can lead to penalties for compliance violations.

Navigate the HIPAA compliance marketing maze with Improvado
Improvado is a HIPAA-compliant marketing solution that combines advanced analytics capabilities with the highest standards of data privacy and security.
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Google Analytics

How to make Google Analytics HIPAA-compliant

Google Analytics is the most widely-used analytics platform in the health industry.

But here’s the kicker: Google Analytics is not compliant right out of the box. To make the platform fit for use within the rules of HIPAA, you must make some adjustments (more on that soon).

Google is well-known across all industries because it offers high-quality functionalities at zero cost. But here’s why you can’t use it to collect PHI:

  1. Google stores all tracked data in databases located across the world and offers neither on-premise hosting nor bespoke data residency services. Thus, covered entities have no control over where their patient data will be stored. HIPAA sees this as a breach of accountability.
  2. Google uses all data within its systems to create new services, improve existing offerings, and create personalized advertising experiences. Using a covered entity’s PHI for Google’s scale of operations can cause a serious violation of HIPAA regulations.

Then how do healthcare organizations use Google Analytics?

After the 2022 HHS update on tracking technology vendors, Google Analytics is no longer recommended for use in the healthcare industry. Google itself declared that Google Analytics doesn't satisfy new HIPAA requirements and advises companies subject to HIPAA to use GA strictly on pages that are not HIPAA-covered, meaning pages that are open to everybody and don't require sign-in. Read our guide to learn more about the new regulations and how to continue accessing detailed marketing insights without compromising on the new regulations.

To use Google Analytics, you must ensure you don’t pass PHI into the system. Here are best practices you can follow:

  1. Ensure that patient information is not included in your tracking URL.
  2. Make use of IP anonymization and ID masking tools. Thus, all user IDs will be masked irreversibly, and GA and other analytics tools won't have access to the war data. 
  3. Remove personally identifiable information (PII) from user-entered data on your form fields before sending it to Google Analytics. This could require a review of your URL structure and data collection forms to remove or obfuscate any fields that may contain PHI.
  4. Adjust your Google Analytics account settings to disable data sharing with other Google services. 
  5. Google Analytics has settings that control how long user and event data are stored. Limiting this period can help maintain HIPAA compliance.


Zendesk display

Zendesk is widely known as a customer service platform. However, it offers a slew of other tools. Here, we will be focusing on its analytics platform, Zendesk Explore.

Zendesk Explore provides powerful reporting functionalities that can help you generate accurate insights about your patients, prospects, and resources.

How does Zendesk handle HIPAA compliance?

Zendesk generally provides an advanced security functionality built into some of its plans and offered as an add-on for others. This advanced security feature offers an extra layer of security for your Zendesk data and helps you stay compliant with HIPAA.

However, this functionality does not apply to Zendesk Explore. To make Zendesk Explore HIPAA-compliant, you must make some manual configurations.

For instance, you will need to manually assign roles and permissions to all of your users. That way, you control the scope of data they can access.

Zendesk Explore also advises that you constantly review the content of any dashboards you share externally to ensure that sensitive data is protected.


Tableau visualization tool

Tableau leverages visual analytics to help healthcare organizations deliver optimal experiences and care outcomes for their patients.

Marketing professionals in the healthcare industry use Tableau to gain deep insights into digital media spending, website performance, the customer journey, and more, all while staying compliant with HIPAA.

How does Tableau handle HIPAA compliance?

Tableau clearly admits on its resources page that it is not HIPAA-compliant right out of the box. However, it can be made HIPAA-compliant.

Tableau, in itself, is a reporting and query tool, not a database. Thus, its compliance is dependent on the end-user and the database governance in place.

In other words, to ensure that your whole operation is safe from HIPAA’s hammer, your database needs to be HIPAA-compliant. You also need to handle your patient data within the boundaries of the rules.

Here are some security features that Tableau users can leverage to stay compliant while using the platform for marketing analytics:

  1. User Filter for Row Level Security—This allows you to control how much data each user sees at a row level. 
  2. Column Exclusion—This allows you to clean your data source of information that a third party should not see.
  3. Hide Underlying Data—This feature enables you to toggle off the “view underlying data” in a Tableau Server View. That way, your visualizations will make the underlying data anonymous, ensuring extra security.

The whole modus operandi of Tableau’s HIPAA-compliance effort focuses on monitoring and controlling how much data users can access.


CallRail platform

CallRail is a call tracking and attribution platform that helps businesses identify the marketing campaigns that bring in the most qualified phone calls.

The platform helps over 2,600 healthcare service providers build efficient marketing strategies and track every step of their prospect’s journey while staying compliant with HIPAA.

How does CallRail stay HIPAA-compliant?

CallRail takes HIPAA compliance seriously and offers dedicated tools to help its healthcare clients protect their patients’ data, as directed by HIPAA.

This is because, to help healthcare organizations properly track call data, CallRail stores two kinds of PHI: call recordings and caller ID information.

To ensure its clients don’t violate any rules, here’s a list of measures CallRail has put in place:

  1. CallRail signs a BAA with clients on its health plan.
  2. All data is encrypted both “in transit” and “in storage.”
  3. All call details are protected from external systems.
  4. CallRail provides unique login details for users and automatically logs them off after a period of inactivity.
  5. CallRail offers a full audit history for maximum transparency.
  6. The platform uses firewalls and private network gaps to make its systems inaccessible via the public internet.

The platform also encourages its users to take extra caution to ensure they don’t violate regulations by oversight.

Bottom Line

Healthcare digital marketing is complex. Organizations need to take extra caution in ensuring that patient information is private, secure, and compliant with HIPAA’s marketing rules.

When building their marketing stack, healthcare and wellness companies ought to ensure that every single tool they use in regard to their patients’ data is compliant with HIPAA regulations.

If you want to know more about how Improvado can help you take your healthcare marketing strategy to another level while staying compliant with HIPAA, talk to our  experts today.

Frequently Asked Questions

What is HIPAA-compliant marketing?

HIPAA-compliant marketing covers all marketing activities in the healthcare and wellness industry, which respect the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act (HIPAA) of 1996, a U.S. law designed to provide privacy standards that protect patients' medical records and other health information. It ensures that Protected Health Information (PHI) is not used in marketing without the explicit consent of the patient. In other words, any marketing communications, from email blasts to social media ads, that would involve the use or disclosure of PHI to encourage the use or purchase of a product or service must first have the individual's authorization.

Is Google Analytics HIPAA compliant?

On its own, Google Analytics isn't HIPAA compliant. That's because it's designed to track user behavior and can potentially collect Protected Health Information (PHI), which is a big no-no under HIPAA. However, with some tweaks, you can make your Google Analytics HIPAA-compliant. Make sure to turn off data-sharing settings and disable all data collection for advertising features. Then, anonymize IP addresses and don't send any PHI to Google Analytics. Be careful about what data you track and avoid using identifiable information.

Is Tableau HIPAA-compliant?

Similar to Google Analytics, Tableau isn't a HIPAA-compliant tool out-of-the-box but can be tweaked to be used in a HIPAA-compliant manner. Tableau, in itself, is a data visualization and query solution, its compliance is dependent on the end user and the governance settings of the database that feeds data to Tableau. Improvado is a HIPAA-compliant marketing analytics solution, that can aggregate data from all your marketing channels, prepare it for analysis, and push it to Tableau for visualization and further analysis while keeping you safe under HIPAA law.

Does my CRM need to be HIPAA-compliant?

If you're a healthcare organization in the U.S., and your CRM is used to store, process, or transmit any Protected Health Information (PHI), then yes, it must be HIPAA-compliant. Additionally, other marketing tools and analytics solutions must comply with HIPAA regulations. Any minor oversights can cost you between $100 and $50,000 in penalties for each violation.

How does Improvado ensure HIPAA compliance?

Improvado takes a firm stance on HIPAA compliance and protects patient information from unauthorized access and usage by giving admin users full control over who gets access to data and what they can do with it. Important to note: Improvado can pull data from 500+ platforms, so you must make sure that all of your data sources comply with established privacy and security rules. Improvado Solution Engineers can assist you with making sure your marketing analytics stay HIPAA-compliant.

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