Social networks are a rapidly growing part of the Internet and a big part of how people spend their time online. Recent reports show Facebook has 1.4 billion users; Twitter has 320 million; YouTube has 1 billion, and those numbers are only increasing[i].
Those who engage in social networking are also more likely to turn to these outlets for treatment and diagnostic information. Recent data shows that 55% of patients trust hospital social posts and, overall, patients are more likely to share information about their health with hospitals on social media[ii]. With this in mind, becoming active on social media has never been more important for hospitals and healthcare facilities.
Thanks to the Internet and social media, information can now be disseminated at an extraordinary speed and reach more people faster than was ever possible prior to social media. This rapid sharing of information offers a unique opportunity for providers to prevent, diagnose and treat more diseases. Not only that, but it’s extremely cost effective.
Though beneficial in many aspects, there are reasons for hospitals and healthcare facilities to be apprehensive about social media, particularly as it pertains to HIPAA and HITECH. Some common hospital social media violations include[iii]:
- Posting verbal “gossip” about a patient to unauthorized individuals, even if the patient’s name is not disclosed.
- Sharing photographs or any form of protected health information (PHI) without written consent from a patient.
- Mistakenly believing that posts are private or have been deleted when they are still visible to the public.
- Sharing of seemingly innocent pictures, such as a workplace lunch, that could contain visible patient files.
Employees need to be aware of the potential risks associated with posting comments on social channels. Healthcare professionals are warned to never post pictures of patients inside the facility or when they are receiving treatment within their home. These photographs could be interpreted as an invasion of privacy or unauthorized sharing of PHI.
If you decide your hospital will join social media then it’s essential to develop a social media policy for employees. All employees should be thoroughly trained on this policy – even non-employed physicians with hospital privileges.
Some items that should be addressed in your policy include[iv]:
- Following all applicable policies regarding sharing confidential or proprietary information.
- Writing in the first person – make it clear that the employee/user is not speaking on behalf of the hospital or healthcare organization.
- If the social media user identifies their connection with your organization, the user should uphold the high standards of conduct applied to your organization’s page.
- Use good judgment and be professional, accurate and honest. Be respectful to fellow employees.
- Avoid connecting with patients on social networks. Normal boundaries between healthcare professionals and their patients must be maintained.
- Discourage management/supervisors from initiating friend requests with employees they manage.
- Social media activity should not interfere with work commitments.
There can be no doubt that when used effectively and appropriately, social media has the potential to be a great tool for hospitals. With the right parameters set, including a contingency plan in case something does go wrong, hospitals should feel comfortable using social media to connect with their peers, patients and the larger medical community.
Further reading: American Medical Association. Opinion 9.124 – Professionalism in the Use of Social Media. http://www.ama-assn.org/ama/pub/physician-resources/medical-ethics/code-medical-ethics/opinion9124.page?. January 19, 2016.
[i] MagMutual Insurance Company. Learning Module Social Media and HIPAA Compliance. http://www.magmutual.com/social-media-and-hipaa-compliance-risk-management-guide?page=1. January 15, 2016.
Mayo Clinic. Sharing Mayo Clinic: Stories from patients, family, friends and Mayo Clinic staff. http://sharing.mayoclinic.org/guidelines/for-mayo-clinic-employees/. January 18, 2016.