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Is sharing my patient list with a marketing company OK under HIPAA?

Saturday, February 11th, 2017

We received this questions via Ask Erik from the head of a Dental Practice (who wished to remain anonymous):

“I want to create a Refer-a-Friend program, for a dental practice, that will be managed by a third party marketing agency.  The third party needs only my patient names and address to do an on-going e-mail campaign, no PHI will be given to the third party — just name and e-mail address.

Because I am ‘Marketing” to my own list, and I am NOT marketing any third party products, and I am not receiving any third party payment for anything:

* Am I in any HIPAA danger? (No PHI is ever exchanged, and I am NOT marketing anyone else’s product.)

* Because my PHI is de-identified from the associated names and e-mail addresses, is it OK for me to hand over my patient mail list to my marketing agency (being very careful of course to include NO PHI)?

* Does HIPAA specifically prevent me from marketing my own products to my patient list? I know that marketing other people’s products to my list will require prior consent. But, marketing my own Refer-a-Friend program… how is that a violation?

NOTE: PHI is defined as: “(A) is created or received by a health care provider, health plan, public health authority, employer, life insurer, school or university, or health care clearinghouse; and (B) relates to the past, present, or future physical or mental health or condition of any individual, the provision of health care to an individual, or the past, present, or future payment for the provision of health care to an individual.”

So, is a mail list of my patients’ names and e-mail addresses considered to be PHI (if it contains no associated PHI as defined above)? The definition above would say NO. The definition above states that it is ONLY the health information about a patient — NOT the patient’s name and e-mail addresses themselves.

Also, on the mail list for the Refer-a-Friend marketing program, there will be names other than patients, probably about 5% are not patients. Does this influence the phi/non-phi question?

This is a very important distinction. Having clarity on this question could free up a lot of us to proceed with e-mail marketing.

If a mailing list, for a dentist, that contains 95% patients and 5% non-patients, and NO health information (just names and addresses)… is it considered PHI?”

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