Are you involved in the healthcare industry? If so, you probably know that HIPAA compliance is one of the core ways to protect personal data and operate by the law. The Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act (HIPAA) requires covered entities to follow specific policies and procedures to protect patients' sensitive health information.
Between 2009 and 2021, 4,419 healthcare data breaches of 500 or more records were reported to the Department of Health and Human Services' Office for Civil Rights. In these breaches, 314,063,186 healthcare records were lost, stolen, exposed, or improperly disclosed.
Healthcare direct mail with personal information is among key healthcare providers' data privacy weaknesses. That is why it's essential to create a HIPAA compliant direct mail program to keep the data handlers within the scope of their responsibilities and reduce the risk of unauthorized access to sensitive data.
This article will cover everything you need to know about HIPAA and postal mail and how to create a HIPAA-compliant direct mailing list for your practice.
What is HIPAA?
HIPAA stands for the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act, a law passed by Congress in 1996. This law was enacted to modernize the flow of healthcare information and make it more secure. It stipulates how the healthcare and healthcare insurance providers must protect the Personally Identifiable Information (PII) they handle from fraud and theft.
HIPAA also addresses limitations on healthcare insurance coverage. It applies to all forms of individuals' protected health information, whether in electronic (see the HIPAA privacy rule for email), written, or oral form.
HIPAA Guidelines for Direct Mail: How to Make it Compliant
Let's face it: HIPAA compliance isn't easy. Many organizations implement robust privacy and security programs to avoid exposing their patients to risks. At the same time, they pay insufficient attention to making their direct mail secure enough. They use unreliable providers to deliver mail, increasing the risk of information disclosure.
When sending direct mail, it's necessary to adhere to HIPAA guidelines. These guidelines help protect your customers' sensitive information when you provide them services.
Let's take a closer look at these basic guidelines:
Partner With a HIPAA Compliant Direct Mailer
HIPAA compliant mailing services are carriers that meet HIPAA requirements and know how to deliver communications with sensitive data. They prevent unauthorized individuals from accessing personal health information at all stages of mail processing.
You don't have to worry about organizing direct mail HIPAA compliance yourself by cooperating with such a carrier. It takes a significant share of the compliance burden off your shoulders.
Protect Data Included in Mailings
When dealing with healthcare information, you must work in a HIPAA-compliant manner. Be extra careful not to disclose any protected health information (PHI) with your mail pieces. PHI is any identifiable health information related to an individual's past, present or future physical or mental health condition. The information also includes patient name and address, type of service provided, diagnosis, and associated cost of care.
Be sure to extract the PHI so you can protect it adequately throughout the mailing process. If you need to include it, you must ensure the data owner will be the one to receive and open the envelope.
Your Mail Content Should Not Be Visible in the Envelope Window
HIPAA does not require the use of any particular type of envelope or packaging for direct mail containing protected health information under its Privacy Rule. However, you should always ensure that the mail content is not visible through the envelope window.
If you are mailing sensitive health-related documents such as medical bills and claim forms, avoid translucent envelopes that could reveal this sensitive information when held up to the light. Instead, opt for letter packages or self-mailers to reduce the risk of exposure.
Send PHI Packages Through First-Class Postal Mail
Is regular mail HIPAA compliant? When it comes to HIPAA and postal mail, you must send all protected health information (PHI) packages through first-class postal mail. This applies to any statements with dates of service, insurance information, and anything else containing personal health information.
If your doctor's office sends out reports monthly, they need to use first-class mail instead of the standard mail option. Standard mail is best for marketing communications.
First-class mail allows the recipient to track their packages and gives more control over the process. In some cases, you can also use certified postal mail.
(The HIPAA privacy rule for email is not the same as for direct mail. Read more here).
HIPAA's Information and Delivery Restrictions
HIPAA applies to "covered entities," referring to organizations that provide healthcare services, such as hospitals, doctors, and insurance companies. If your entity is covered, you must have a clear understanding of HIPAA's delivery restrictions. It is important to note that while medical direct mail is crucial for patient correspondence, you can't send the items that include the following details.
What you should be careful with:
The HIPAA Privacy Rule requires covered entities to limit the use or disclosure of identifiable health information. If you intend to include such information without authorization, you should minimize it to a point where it accomplishes the intended purpose.
This information includes the patient's name, address, fingerprints, social security number, license information, and birth date.
This refers to any information relating to a patient's physical or mental health condition, including treatment plans, diagnosis, and medical records.
Contact details such as addresses, phone numbers, and email addresses cannot be sent by direct mail.
What you can send:
The covered entities have the permission to distribute information in a way that doesn't violate the HIPAA guidelines. Here's a brief list of the non-specific information organizations can send:
- Letters, invoices, and other correspondence
- Information about the different treatments and medical procedures available
- A description of coverage or benefits (EOC and EOB)
- General office announcements and information regarding possible security breaches
How Inkit Send Can Help With HIPAA and Postal Mail
Inkit Send is a direct mail automation tool you can use to deliver healthcare marketing and official medical communications. It's an API you integrate with your systems to print mailings and manage the delivery. Since everything happens automatically, access to personal health information is strictly limited. You can set up persimmons to choose who can access data and what they can do with it. Such capabilities are life-critical to protect patients' data and stay regulatory compliant.
Since Inkit has been working with direct mail for years, we are a HIPAA compliant company and can ensure compliance for organizations using our tool.
Sign up for a free trial today and see how Inkit Send works yourself.
As you can see, HIPAA-compliant direct mail requires more planning than regular marketing campaigns. The law restricts how healthcare businesses process consumers' medical information, and the punishment for violation is strict. Get in touch with our team for more details about becoming HIPAA compliant using Inkit!