deciphering the most recent OCR update

featured in the June issue of Healthcare Risk Management

In an article published in the June issue of Healthcare Risk Management, titled “OCR’s Update on Online Tracking Guidance Still Tricky,” our Vice President of Client Success, Jeremy Mathis, shared his perspective on the challenges facing healthcare providers in light of the updated guidance on online tracking issued in March by the Office for Civil Rights (OCR).

The Struggle with OCR’s Updated Guidance

As a digital marketing agency working with health systems across the country, we have witnessed firsthand the confusion and difficulties that the OCR’s update has caused for covered entities.

The crux of the issue lies in the OCR’s examples, which require healthcare systems to discern an individual’s motivations for visiting a web page. In the article, Jeremy shared an example where two users visit a website: one is a student doing research, and the other is a potential patient seeking to schedule an appointment.”The trouble is,” according to Jeremy, “it’s the same website for both visitors. And creating that truly individual and tailored, visitor-specific experience would require systems to invest resources that, frankly, are better allocated to delivering patient care.”

Our Recommendation for Healthcare Marketers

In light of these challenges, Fathom recommends that HIPAA-covered entities take the most conservative approach: avoid using tracking on their websites unless they have signed a Business Associate Agreement (BAA) with the platform. We have recommended this to clients since 2022 and will continue until court cases are settled and actual clarity is available.

Adopting this conservative approach limits the toolset available to health systems for reaching, engaging, and measuring their audience. Popular tools like Google Analytics 4 and Meta pixel are off-limits, as these platforms won’t sign a BAA. As a result, health systems and their partners have had to invest significant time and resources to pivot strategies and ensure that the needs of their communities continue to be met.

Looking Ahead to Updates

The OCR’s lack of practical guidance has left many struggling to navigate this complex landscape. We remain committed to helping our clients adapt to these changes. As the situation evolves, we will continue providing marketers with the most up-to-date recommendations. Sign up for our newsletter to receive updates as they’re available.

You can find more from Jeremy and other experts at Healthcare Risk Management’s website.