A couple months ago we discussed whether nutritionists and dietitians need to abide by HIPAA regulations. On a related note, we recently came across a scenario where a new customer told us they got kicked off Mailchimp for sending a weight loss coaching email newsletter.
In this post, we’ll answer the question: Does a weight loss coaching email newsletter contain protected health information (PHI)?
See related: HIPAA Compliant Email: The Definitive Guide
Weight loss coaching
As context, weight loss coaching is a process that involves working with a coach who specializes in helping people, weight for it, lose weight. The coach provides guidance, support, and accountability to help the client achieve their weight loss goals. This can include helping the client make lifestyle changes such as eating a healthier diet and increasing physical activity, developing healthy habits and behaviors, managing stress and emotional eating, and overcoming challenges and setbacks along the way.
The goal of weight loss coaching is to empower the client to take control of their health and make sustainable changes that lead to lasting weight loss and improved overall health.
HIPAA and PHI
As a recap, the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act (HIPAA) is a federal law that protects the privacy of individuals’ personal health information.
As we’ve previously discussed, HIPAA applies to covered entities, which includes healthcare providers, health plans, and healthcare clearinghouses. It also applies to business associates of these covered entities. These are entities that perform certain functions or activities on behalf of the covered entity.
A business associate agreement (BAA) is a written contract between a covered entity and a business associate. It is required by law for HIPAA compliance.
PHI refers to any information about an individual’s health or health care that can be used to identify the individual and that is held by a covered entity or business associate.
PHI isn’t just confined to medical records and test results. In fact, any information that can identify a patient and is used or disclosed during the course of care is considered PHI. Even if the information by itself doesn’t reveal a patient’s medical history, it is still considered PHI.
As a general guideline, any information that can reasonably be used to identify an individual and is used during the course of care is considered PHI.
Healthcare email newsletters
Healthcare email newsletters are a valuable tool for healthcare organizations to communicate with their patients and stakeholders. These newsletters are typically sent on a regular basis and include a variety of content such as health tips, disease prevention information, new developments in medicine and health research, and updates on the services and programs offered by the healthcare organization. The goal of these newsletters is to provide patients and stakeholders with valuable information that can help them make informed decisions about their health and wellness.
By sending regular email newsletters, healthcare organizations can foster a strong relationship with their patients and stakeholders and promote patient engagement. These newsletters can also be a powerful marketing tool, as they allow organizations to highlight their services and programs, share positive patient testimonials, and promote community events and initiatives.
Furthermore, healthcare email newsletters can help drive traffic to the organization’s website and social media pages, where patients can find even more information about their health and the services and programs offered by the organization.
In short, healthcare email newsletters are a valuable tool for promoting patient engagement, building relationships, and advancing the mission of healthcare organizations.
See related: How to write an effective healthcare email newsletter
Does a weight loss coaching email newsletter contain PHI?
It depends on the type of information being shared in the weight loss coaching email newsletter. If the newsletter is purely focused on weight loss tips, healthy eating habits, and general wellness information, then it may not be subject to HIPAA regulations.
However, if the newsletter includes any information that could be considered PHI, such as individual patient weight loss progress, medical history, or treatment information, then it would need to be HIPAA compliant. For example, it’s widely known that personalizing an email newsletter increases engagement. If a weight loss coaching email newsletter uses personalization, that could easily involve protected health information.
In a nutshell, if the weight loss coaching email newsletter includes any PHI, it would need to be HIPAA compliant and adhere to the standards set forth in the HIPAA regulations. If the newsletter only contains general information and tips on weight loss and wellness, then HIPAA compliance may not be necessary. On that note, such a newsletter would likely have much less engagement than one that’s personalized to each recipient.
See related: Personalized email marketing in U.S. healthcare