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Using Social Media Responsibly in Healthcare

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This blog post excerpts an article in the Q3 2015 issue of PX Advisor, our quarterly magazine designed to bring you thought leadership and best practices for improving the patient experience.

The days when social media was viewed solely as a fun communications platform for younger generations are definitely over. Today, with 1.28 billion Facebook users and another billion on Twitter, social media has become a key way people connect and socialize with one another in work and in everyday life. In healthcare settings, the impetus to use social media is no different than in any other industry. When used correctly, it is an excellent tool that can increase awareness of hospital services, create a two-way dialogue with patients, families, and the community, and improve the patient experience. It is also a powerful communication tool that fosters easy collaboration between physicians and clinicians, is used in training, and helps organizations promote cultural standards, team building, and employee satisfaction and recruitment. 

At the same time, we are all aware of stories about the misuse of social media in the workplace. Ensuring responsible use of social media in healthcare settings, such as hospitals and other patient care environments, can be tricky, according to David Rosenthal, Vice President of Business Development for compliance solutions at HCCS—A HealthStream Company , which offers online compliance training and tracking solutions to healthcare facilities. “In healthcare, it’s easy to quickly cross the line from improper use to illegal actions,” says Rosenthal. When a physician described her experience in the ER in a blog posting, including detail about the patient’s injuries, a third party was able to identify the patient by name. She thought she had left out enough identifiable information. That physician was found guilty of unprofessional conduct and was fined by the state medical board. In another real-life case, a physician was punished for taking a ‘surgery selfie’ and posting it on social media. Other common situations involve nurses who share photos of interesting patient X-rays on their Facebook pages, which can lead to termination for HIPAA violations.

When a healthcare worker releases patient information that violates federal regulations it can result in serious penalties and reputational issues. Moreover, the views of a physician, nurse, or other staff member represent the organization for which they work and potentially affect patients. Postings on social media can impact a patient or client’s desire to use or work with that facility. Does this mean your organization should implement a strict policy that drastically limits or prohibits physicians and staff from using social media? No. This is not realistic in today’s world. Also, federal labor laws prohibit such a move, and it would compromise employee loyalty and satisfaction. In fact, the National Labor Relations Board rulings state that all employees have specific workplace speech and assembly protection. It is critical, however, to design social media and security policies that address potential liabilities in today’s click-and-post culture.

SOCIAL MEDIA RISKS FOR HEALTHCARE INCLUDE:

  • Release of private company information
  • Release of PHI
  • Improper photos of staff and patients
  • Release of private employee information
  • Online bullying
  • Hurt feelings/morale
  • Offensive on religious, gender, sexual orientation, or other grounds
  • Portray facility in unfavorable terms
  • Improper access to network/computer virus

In a future post, we’ll share 3 tips for creating an effective social media strategy.

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