HIPAA-Compliant Analytics for Healthcare Marketing

HIPAA-Compliant Analytics: Navigating Data Privacy in Healthcare Marketing

Data privacy requirements are higher than ever for healthcare organizations. So is the need to measure how the web drives traffic (and patients) to healthcare websites. This affects doctors, hospitals, pharmacies, health insurance plans, and more.  

You don’t have to choose between data privacy and campaign measurement tools like Google Analytics. With the right server-side data framework, you can have both. 

HHS Analytics Security Guidance Ramped Up 

The Department of Health & Human Services (HHS) recently issued new guidance. It explains that platforms like Google and Meta collect protected health information (PHI) by default, which could violate HIPAA rules. This has significant implications for healthcare marketers who use these industry-standard tools to measure digital marketing campaign performance. 

Enforcement has been swift. HIPAA-covered entities faced violation notices and class-action lawsuits promptly after HHS issued its guidance. As of April 29, the HHS’s Office of Civil Rights (OCR) settled or imposed fines in 145 cases for $142.7 million. The targets have included national pharmacy chains, major medical centers, group health plans, hospital chains, and small provider offices. 

In response, many compliance teams removed most third-party tracking, including Google Analytics, from their websites. Digital healthcare marketers need a solution to collect data and control what they share with partners. This solution must be HIPAA-compliant and cost-effective. 

To summarize the recent HHS guidance: 

  • Collecting an IP address isn’t an issue on its own, but if it’s combined with pageview data or other health-related information, it becomes PHI. Visiting a page about cancer services and obtaining the IP address constitutes a disclosure of personal health information. 
  • HHS considers consent management like web consent pop-ups or checkboxes insufficient for compliance.  
  • Before sharing PHI with non-compliant platforms (such as GA4), HHS wants explicit HIPAA authorization. 
  • HHS recommends using analytics platforms willing to sign a business associate agreement (BAA) or employing vendors to de-identify data before sharing it with third-party services. Google has instructed HIPAA-regulated Analytics users to “refrain from exposing to Google any data that may be considered protected health information.”  

Server-Side Digital Analytics for Healthcare 

A server-side framework, meanwhile, can de-identify data before sending it to Google Analytics for campaign measurement. 

The default (client-side) implementation of Google Analytics 4 (GA4) does not collect or store IP addresses directly, nor does it collect personal data. It only uses the user’s IP address to determine their location and then sends this information to its servers. 

However, even though Google doesn’t save IP addresses, the act of collecting them violates HIPAA. De-identifying PHI after collection is insufficient; the handling of PHI must be compliant from the start. 

A server-side tagging implementation, meanwhile, gives you full control over the data shared with third parties like Google, Meta, your programmatic display ads vendor, etc. This allows you to remove personally identifiable information (PII) and ensure data privacy compliance. This setup also lets you: 

  • Correct inconsistencies in event data. 
  • Reduce data loss by validating event data. 
  • Remove redundant or unnecessary data inserted by browsers or apps.  

At the same time, server-side tagging improves website performance. With client-side tagging, the browser fires each code script. If there are multiple endpoints to send data, that heavy data load can strain bandwidth resources. 

In server-side tagging, the browser sends one request to a HIPAA-compliant server container. This lets you manage data collection, cleansing, and sharing at a granular level while ensuring HIPAA compliance. 

Photo credit: https://support.google.com/tagmanager/answer/13387731?hl=en  

HIPAA-Compliant Data Solutions 

The HHS updates reinforce the need for healthcare organizations to be meticulous about how they collect, handle, and transmit data through tracking technologies. Ensuring HIPAA-compliance involves careful selection of analytics platforms, obtaining explicit authorizations, and possibly restructuring how data is managed and transmitted.  

Trust is the cornerstone of the patient-healthcare provider relationship. Patients are more likely to share their health information with healthcare providers if they trust that the providers will keep it confidential. Trust encourages patients to communicate openly with their healthcare providers. This open communication can lead to better healthcare outcomes. 

Ready to leverage data for marketing and operational purposes while complying with the HHS guidance? Contact TruStar Marketing for your own cost-effective custom server-side solution that tracks Google Analytics data while ensuring HIPAA-compliance.