What Policies Should Dentists Be Aware of For Marketing In 2016?
Let’s face it, if you want more patients, then you are going to need to market. But times have changed haven’t they? In the old days, it was easier to obtain new patients, but now it’s more difficult to even get noticed, let alone stand out among the many practices out there. Before most people began using the Internet, marketing for dentists primarily involved placing ads in the Yellow Pages.
This was a great way to attract new patients, but things have certainly changed since then. Now, people often try to self diagnose, and if they end up needing a dentist, they’ll perform an online search, or check with their insurance and choose a dentist who they feel fits their needs.
As a result of these industry-wide changes, dentists (all doctors really) have had to adapt their digital marketing strategies to acquire their ideal patients. Further, dental marketing strategies have evolved in parallel with market trends and government regulations.
When it comes to marketing dental clinics there are some policies that you should be aware of.
Federal Trade Commission Act (FTC Act)
When engaging in dental promotions, it’s good to start out by reviewing the Federal Trade Commission Act (FTC Act).
As a rule, you can’t claim or imply overall superiority over your competition when it comes to the quality of dental services offered. As your audience won’t be able to properly verify these claims, it’s best to avoid this altogether.
Further, you should also follow the rules listed below to avoid violating the FTC Act:
- Don't mislead or deceive (via partial disclosure of relative facts)
- Don't make false claims to create unjustified expectations
- Don't guarantee uncharacteristic results
- Don't distort facts
- Don't misrepresent charges
- Don't suggest unusual conditions
This goes hand-in-hand with the American Dental Association’s Code of Professional Conduct, Section 5F:
Remember to be careful with the words you choose.
It’s a good idea to have an outside party review your marketing materials to verify that all messages are clear before publication.
Marketing Dental Practices and HIPAA Compliance
If you’re reading this, chances are you know that internet marketing for dentists can transform your practice.
Online marketing services such as search engine optimization (SEO), social media, and email marketing can attract a knowledgeable group of patients who will essentially make a decision based on their own research results, and if you can help ‘feed’ them information, than it’s you that will be seen as the expert.
In other words, if you’re not using effective dental internet marketing strategies, your potential patients won’t be able to find you. But keep in mind, however, that they will probably find a competitor.
When it comes to being HIPAA compliant, remember privacy above all else. When developing your healthcare marketing strategy, create campaigns that don’t include the use of patient data (regardless of whether they’re existing patients or potential patients).
There has to be complete clarity when it comes to public and private data.
Internet Marketing for Dentists and Marketing Data
Internet marketing is powerful! Agreed?
For example did you know that you can target specific individual profiles?
You can do this with Facebook Ads.
We aren’t going to go into that right now as we have discussed that at length in other posts regarding Facebook.
In general, you are allowed to collect certain types of data to make your campaigns more effective. However, this information is usually limited to the following:
- Phone Number
- Email address
You can collect this information through social media, emails, surveys, online forms, etc.
The most effective way to obtain this inform from website visitors is by giving them something in return for something.
You give them a free PDF download on your top 5 toothbrushes.
They, in return, give you their email address.
This is referred to as email marketing.
It may look something like the below. (Compliments of Techila)
It doesn’t have to be a free download you are giving them.
It could be a free Invisalign consultation.
And you make the opt in form only show up on the Invisalign page of your site.
See how that can be effective? You are asking those that have an interest in a service if they’d like to talk to you about it a little bit more.
As the information that you collected from the online forms is marketing-oriented (and not anything to do with any relationship with your dental practice), you’re allowed to use this data to contact them directly.
Private data can’t be used in conjunction with internet marketing, so take necessary steps to avoid it. If you fail to do so and break HIPAA rules, then you will be faced with not only losing your license but also jail time.
The best way to get around this is to manage this data separately. If you’re using customer relationship management software (CRM) to manage appointments, make sure that it isn’t linked to the database with patient health data.
When Do Policy Issues Arise?
Policy violations and problems can come up when your digital marketing campaigns include Protected Health Information (PHI). Although most marketing strategies for dental practices will not involve any private health information, I recommend that you thoroughly read the code to fully grasp what’s allowed.
PHI essentially has two vital components:
1. Health-related data must be comprised of information related to the past, present, or future physical care the patient received and any payment that was received.
2. The data has to be specifically refer to the dates associated with patient care, last name, address, email address, telephone number, social security number, medical record number, health plan, photographs, fingerprints, or voice prints.
So if problems related to PHI compliance occur, the data must include both of these components.
Where To Turn Now
If you’re feeling a bit apprehensive about moving forward with internet marketing after reading this, then don’t worry!
We aren’t trying to scare, just inform.
Just be sure that you investigate your marketing campaign fully and make sure that you’re not violating any government policies.
Let’s take an in-depth look at PHI with the help of some examples.
Policy Violation Example 1
You have a patient who is an NBA star from your local team and you want to take advantage of this relationship.
You want to promote the fact that this athlete comes to your practice on your social media platforms, which makes sense, right?
It can add credibility to your practice, and help you build your online presence, and attract new patients.
But you didn’t get permission from the basketball player to share this information or you failed to get signed consent.
In this scenario, if you shared this information without permission, it will definitely be an improper use of your patient’s private health information.
Even if it’s exciting and flattering to have celebrity patients, you have to respect the fact that they are also protected by HIPAA.
If you think that you, or your staff can’t maintain confidentiality, don’t accept a celebrity patient.
If you think that you, or you staff can't maintain confidentiality, don't accept a celebrity patient.
But is that the right choice?
The short answer is no. A better choice would be to engage in social media the right way.
Don’t be afraid of the risks related to social media because the rewards can be huge. The best approach is to develop strict guidelines for yourself and your staff to follow.
At the end of the day, traditional marketing methods like the Yellow Pages are now almost irrelevant (in some cases they are) and avoiding social media would mean missing out on opportunities to expand your practice.
Thousands of patients in your area are already active on social media, so even if you avoid it, you might already have a presence on Google, Yelp, and Facebook.
So it’s better to take ownership of your profiles and manage it on a regular basis.
One way to do so is to create local listings such as the one below, and add your social media profiles to the listing.
This has SEO benefit because you are getting a link to your social profile, and it see’s your business as more relevant.
And of course we know that claiming local directory listings such as this is beneficial, and can help improve your local search results.
What’s The Best Way To Share Pictures and Videos Online?
Obtain written consent before taking any videos or pictures of patients (give them a simple waiver to sign during new patient intake or while updating information of current patients). You can also take it a step further and verify consent during each visit.
When you take pictures of patients, have an idea as to how will can use them ahead of time. You can also ask patients during their visit to like your posts and share them. If you upload to your Facebook Fan Page, you can even ask patients to tag themselves in your pictures.
This can, in turn, drive more visitors to your page without the fear of violating any regulations.
As a side note, this may sound a bit strict, but be careful in allowing patients to take pictures at your practice.
Patients might take pictures of their kids or themselves while at an appointment, but these images might include other patients in the background and this of course can cause issues.
Not likely, but possible. And you want to minimize risk when it comes to these guidelines.
When you develop your own photography policy, consider including rules on patient rights at your premises as well and post this policy in multiple places in your office.
Policy Violation Example 2
Let’s say that you’re building an email list to send to your current patients. To create this list you collect email addresses from two locations:
- Intake form (in the office)
- Your website
Both the form and website state that patients aren’t required to share any information as it’s for marketing purposes only. There’s no request on the site or the form asking for private information (and the email address is optional).
However, you also state that the information submitted will be used for marketing purposes, but private patient information won’t be included.
As you want to send them the most relevant information, you sync their contact information with your practice management software.
Can you do this?
No obtaining information in the guise of marketing and then using their personally identifying, private, healthcare records.
Policy Violation Example 3
You want to start a dental hygiene newsletter to target new patients. A lot of your current patients have already signed up for the newsletter on your website. Further, many regular patients also show interest in receiving the newsletter when you mention it during appointments.
You go ahead and compile email addresses from the website, along with those email addresses from the patients who expressed interest in the newsletter.
In this scenario, your newsletter campaign in only half HIPAA compliant. The email addresses that you collected from the website are compliant while the list you created verbally violates HIPAA regulations.
Even though the patient gave you consent verbally, no written consent was acquired to add them to the newsletter list.
And seeing as they are your existing patients, they have not been properly informed as to how their information will be used.
Considering all these rules and regulations, you may feel like throwing your hands up in the air and not even getting started with marketing your dental practice.
But, if you take the necessary precautions when collecting patient or potential patient data, you can confidently execute your marketing efforts while staying compliant.
How has government regulation impacted your marketing efforts? Share your thoughts and experience in the comments section below.