Mass mailings and communications such as newsletters that do not use PHI to identify the recipients of the mailing would not fall under the HIPAA regulations. Additionally, communications promoting health in general and that do not promote a product or service from a particular provider, such as communications promoting a healthy diet or encouraging individuals to get certain routine diagnostic tests, do not require individual authorization.
Fundraising Statements in Newsletters
If a newsletter has a purpose to raise funds for the covered entity, then the UNC Health Uses and Disclosures of PHI for Fundraising Purposes Policy and Fundraising Guidelines apply. For example, including a fundraising-specific envelope in a newsletter reflects a purpose to raise funds for the covered entity, and thus only Limited PHI (e.g., name and address) may be used for that purpose.
If a newsletter includes an envelope and enclosure card with check-boxes, where individuals may check off if they would like to receive information about services or programs, then an enclosure generally does not indicate a purpose to raise funds for the covered entity and fundraising guidelines would not apply.
Informational Newsletter Unsubscribe Options
Informational newsletters that are sent to individuals, whether by mail or electronic means, should include unsubscribe options for recipients. The newsletters do not need to include fundraising opt-out language, as long as the purpose of the newsletter is not to raise funds for the covered entity. Departments are responsible for maintaining accurate subscription lists and timely removing from distribution lists those individuals who have expressly requested to unsubscribe/be removed from departmental-issued information newsletters.
Business Associate Agreement
If a covered entity contracts with a third party to perform services (e.g., distribute informational newsletters) on behalf of the covered entity and the third-party will create, receive, transmit, access, or store PHI to perform those services, then a Business Associate Agreement must be obtained. See UNC Health Business Associates Policy.