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Marketing to existing clients or patients is a great way to gain repeat business. However, when it comes to marketing in the health care industry, the waters can become muddied with legal terms and rules that are hard to navigate.

The health care industry requires businesses interested in marketing to abide by the HIPAA Privacy Rule, which defines what constitutes marketing and the rules that must be followed for marketing to take place.

Perhaps the most basic rule is that marketing in the health care industry is allowed only after clients provide a written authorization accepting marketing materials.

For example, a dentist can send email updates regarding new specials or products to a list of clients who have given their permission to receive these messages. In short, health care providers cannot simply send marketing materials to any person who has received treatment; instead, clients must “opt in” to receive the marketing materials.

There are exceptions to the HIPAA Privacy Rule that don’t require written authorization prior to marketing. An example on the U.S. Department of Health & Human Services website includes: “A hospital provides a free package of formula and other baby products to new mothers as they leave the maternity ward.” As stated, a gift of nominal value from the covered entity is not required to obtain authorization, even if the act is considered marketing.

To learn more about HIPAA and marketing, visit www.hhs.gov/ocr/privacy/hipaa/understanding/coveredentities/marketing.html.

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