Retargeting—also known as remarketing—is a popular form of online advertising and one that hospitals and other healthcare organizations need to use with caution. In the US, there’s no law prohibiting the use of targeted ads based on activity at health-related sites. There are, however, self-regulatory guidelines that healthcare organizations are urged to follow in order to comply with HIPAA and other privacy laws:
- An organization cannot run ad content that implies knowledge of sensitive health or medical information.
- An organization may not collect personally identifiable information, such as email addresses, credit card numbers or phone numbers.
For instance, an ad that prompts potential patients to contact your hospital’s cardiac department for more information about general treatment options is acceptable. On the other hand, an ad promoting your hospital that calls out specific diagnoses or conditions—such as congestive heart failure—isn’t allowed.
For some hospitals, retargeting isn’t a priority.
“Our content strategy is more about brand awareness,” Young said. “We’re not trying to drive people to our website for money. We’re trying to drive health education and patient engagement.”
In Canada, Google was criticized for allowing an advertiser to retarget ads based on “sensitive” information. Canada’s online behavioral guidelines “make clear that advertisers should avoid collecting sensitive personal information, such as individuals’ health information, for the purpose of delivering tailored ads.”
An investigation was prompted when a web user complained of seeing ads for devices that treat sleep apnea after he searched for those devices online. As a result, Google began monitoring retargeting campaigns more closely. AdWords now has several policies in place that restrict the promotion of healthcare-related content; you’ll want to become familiar with them.
Regardless of how your ad may be framed, to ensure compliance, it’s recommended that you check with your legal department before running any kind of retargeting campaign.