You’ve probably already been using email to grow your therapy practice but just didn’t know it. Before you had a website or Facebook account you most likely reached out to colleagues and prospects via email.
Like most of you, I’ve become dependent on email as my main mode of communication in my personal life and business.
Typically, the usefulness of a tech tool fades over time but not so with email. To this day email remains the preferred way to communicate with friends, family, and business associates all over the globe.
A recent study by Adestra reports that 73 percent of Millennials prefer businesses communicate with them via email. Also, nearly half of respondents used email to make purchases online.
Email is a fantastic way to communicate with our patients. A growing number of our patients prefer to hear from their therapists by way of email. It makes sense to adopt patient communication to the method most patients use–email.
Email marketing can be an essential part of practice growth if you do it right. For instance, you can use email to market to interested prospects and previous patients by sending newsletters or targeted health tips on specific conditions.
Therapists can automatically send emails that have been previously written and scheduled based upon pre-determined triggers. Automated emails are a great supplement to the one-on-one interactions that are such a vital part of most successful clinics.
Here are a few of my do’s and don’ts of email marketing in a therapy practice.
Do’s & Don’ts of Email Marketing
Do follow HIPAA-HITECH regulations
Many therapy practices are afraid of using email marketing for fear of HIPAA violations and fines, and for good reasons. The laws regarding email communications are not clear and open to interpretation.
HIPAA and HITECH guidelines permit you to communicate with your patients via email, but you need to take the necessary steps to ensure sensitive patient information is safe.
Ask your patients opt-in to email communication from your clinic. Let them know of the potential risks of sending healthcare information. Instruct them not to share personal health information via email.
Emails with patient health information (PHI) must be properly encrypted to ensure patient confidentiality.
Don’t use Gmail or Outlook to email patients.
Free personal email services like Gmail, Outlook, or Apple Mail were designed to help people to easily communicate with each other. Ease of use and readable text are more important than security.
They are not ideally suited for healthcare practices working under HIPAA regulations. Any email you send is vulnerable to being hacked if you’re not careful.
In most cases, to send HIPAA compliant emails’ therapists must ensure that messages are encrypted from inbox to inbox. Unencrypted emails, especially emails that contain PHI are at risk for a HIPAA violation.
If you are using G Suite of Microsoft 365, you will need to sign a Business Associate Agreement (BAA), a HIPAA requirement. Read the G Suite HIPAA Implementation Guide for directions on how to use G Suite correctly.
Do use an email marketing service that is HIPAA-compliant
Don’t assume just because you pay an email service provider like MailChimp or AWeber, it’s automatically secure and meets HIPAA requirements. Most are not unless they clearly promote themselves as HIPAA compliant.
When choosing an email service provider, it’s important to make sure that the service will meet the security measures in the way you intend to use it.
You must protect emails that contain patient health information with encryption. Even something as simple as a name and email address can be considered PHI in specific circumstances.
When in doubt, consult with a HIPAA law expert to determine whether an email service will meet legal standards.
Don’t send emails to patients who haven’t opted-in
None of us likes to get junk mail. By all means, you should avoid automatically signing up patients to receive newsletters or emails from your office. It’s good business to ask for permission to communicate with patients via email.
One way to document permission is to include it in your intake process. Add a question requesting that patients indicate their communication preference. Something like this:
“How would you like us to communicate with you?”
- Email, please provide your email address
By law, you need to make it easy for patients to opt-out from receiving emails from you. That means that at the bottom of every email needs to include an “Unsubscribe” link.
Do send personalized emails.
Personalize your patient communication by asking all of your patients to choose what kind of communication they want to receive from you. Some may only want appointment reminders. Others will indicate they want to read your newsletters or health tips.
One simple way to segment your patients is to ask them to indicate their communication preference on your onboarding form.
What types of email communication would you like to receive from us?
- Appointment reminders
- Health tips on specific conditions
Tailor your communication to meet the specific needs and wants of your patients as much as possible. Most email service providers will allow you to segment your email list into groups.
Email marketers use data such as open rates to refine their messages to specific audiences. Use the feedback you get from your patients to give them more of what they want to hear from you.
Do make your emails interesting.
Think about the emails you always open that are a pleasurable to read. They usually have a conversational feel to them and are usually helpful in some way.
Consider the overall tone and length of your communication. People suffer from information overload so only include what you need to say to get your message across.
Make sure your emails are useful, professional and consistent with your practice brand. Always check for spelling and grammar errors.
Make your emails mobile-friendly. According to a report from Movable Ink, two-thirds of all emails in the US are opened on a mobile device. If your emails are difficult to read on a smart phone, your emails will mostly likely be clicked through and not read.
Ultimately, any email marketing system for a therapy practice boils down to doing what is best for patients and helps you reach your practice goals.
Follow these simple guidelines and you’ll be off to a good start:
- Only email patients who have given you permission.
- Do everything you can to make communication secure.
- Don’t spam patients with unwanted and irrelevant information.
- Send personalized health tips that make patients’ lives better.
- Only send emails that are purposeful and add value.
- Avoid sending patient health information unless necessary.
These practical suggestions will help you connect with patients, grow your practice and align your practice with HIPAA rules.
I created the Expert Roundup Email Marketing Guide to help therapists use email to increase word of mouth referrals. In the guide, you’ll find additional free guides and resources to help you set up a simple email marketing system for your practice.