Data Privacy Crackdown Puts U.S. Telehealth Firms In A Tight Spot

Marketing healthcare services online is becoming increasingly difficult amid a series of data privacy crackdowns at the federal level, with the Federal Trade Commission now leading the charge on a new enforcement push. The agency has been routinely fining telehealth organizations for violations of customer privacy via online health data collection. The director of Health and Human Services’ Office for Civil Rights has said her staff has launched its own inquiry, labeling the health data collection going on as “problematic” and “widespread.”

This has put the squeeze on online marketing partners such as Facebook and Google, as telemedicine firms have only shelled out a mere quarter of what they did in the same period last year on targeted ads with those major players. Nonprofit health systems have followed suit, halving their spending on targeted ads as well. Some firms are completely severing their ties with online advertisers in an attempt to save face as well as avoid the wrath of censure-happy regulatory agencies. And while consumers may be experiencing a better sense of privacy amid these changes, they may also have a harder time finding primary care or other medical services online.

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“Legal and compliance teams … are telling the marketing team that these tools are dead men walking, you need to shut it off immediately,” said the head of marketing at San Francisco-based software firm Freshpaint, Ray Mina. He said clients have flooded his firm with incessant questions about how to limit data collection—but save revenue.