Navigating the New HHS Update on Web Trackers and its Implications for Your Website

New HHS Guidelines

The Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) has recently updated its guidance regarding the use of web tracking technologies by regulated entities.

The crux of the update is a warning against the potential risks associated with the use of web tracking technologies, such as Google analytics and Meta Pixel tracking tags, in ways that could lead to unauthorized disclosures of Protected Health Information (PHI) and inadvertently allowing PHI to leak to third-party vendors— which would be a clear violation of HIPAA regulations.

Compliance Alternatives

To comply with the latest HHS update, healthcare websites have several options: updating the website’s terms of use statement, deploying data anonymization tools for tracking, or removing tracking codes entirely to enhance HIPAA compliance and strengthen privacy protections. Each option has its advantages and drawbacks, and the choice should be made based on your organization’s risk tolerance and available resources.

Update Privacy Policy Statement

In light of these updates, MetaMed Marketing recommends the inclusion of a specific disclaimer in your website’s terms of use statement as the first line of defence to assist in compliance and safeguard patient information. It’s crucial for healthcare organizations to re-scrutinize and possibly revise their online data handling practices by securing a Business Associate Agreement (BAA) from their website marketing providers. Pointing to lax privacy policies and compliance practices of downstream vendors will not shield healthcare organizations from the consequences if a data breach occurs.

Data Anonymization

Data anonymization involves altering the tracking data so that it cannot be traced back to an individual. This approach allows websites to collect useful analytics while safeguarding patient privacy. The primary benefit of data anonymization is that it significantly reduces the risk of personal data being exposed or misused, as the information becomes encrypted and non-identifiable. However, one of the drawbacks is that anonymizing data can limit the depth and utility of the analytics collected, potentially impacting the personalization and overall user experience of a website. Additionally, implementing effective data anonymization techniques requires sophisticated technology and can be cost prohibitive for many owner-operated practices.

Removing Tracking Codes

Removing tracking codes altogether is another method to ensure compliance with privacy regulations, effectively eliminating the risk of any PHI disclosure through third-party vendors. This approach means that no data is collected that could potentially violate HIPAA regulations, thereby simplifying compliance efforts. The downside, however, is significant; it removes the ability to gather any analytics from the website, which can hinder the ability to optimize and improve the site based on user behavior.

Act Now to Ensure Compliance

For healthcare providers, now is the time to act. Review your current privacy policies and tracking technologies in use, consult with HIPAA compliance experts, and make the necessary adjustments to align with these new federal guidelines.

If you require additional guidance on the best approach for your specific situation, or if you have questions about implementing these changes, don’t hesitate to reach out.


Ali Kouros

Ali Kouros is co-founder of MetaMed Marketing. Ali heads up operations, engineering, productions, and practice marketing for MetaMed.

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