Healthcare News & Insights

5 HIPAA-friendly ways to use social media

Many health care providers are worried that social networking’s main selling point — ease of sharing info — will lead them astray of HIPAA rules by sharing too much info with the wrong audience.

Patients and their health care providers yearn for better communication tools to share info. But the resources other industries use don’t translate easily to a health care setting. Social media in particular is overwhelmingly popular among patients, and many health care pros use it — at least in their private lives. But using sites like Facebook and Twitter at a hospital or private practice is tricky.

That leaves physicians, hospitals and other health care organizations on the sidelines of a lot of opportunities. But there are HIPAA-friendly ways to integrate social media into a professional health care setting.

Not using the tools at all is an over-reaction.

Social media experts at Avvo offered these 5 tips on how to take advantage of the benefits of social media while steering clear of the potential risks.

  1. Use email, SMS and social media messaging. These are acceptable tools for making outreach to patients, the media, medical industry influencers, and other doctors.  HIPAA regulations actually encourage the use of alternative communication methods, especially as patients express their preference for a particular mode of communication.
  2. Share information with other providers. Many health professionals set up unnecessary procedures that make it harder to share patient information with other providers. If you need input from another provider, you don’t have to worry about HIPAA compliance. HIPAA guidelines specifically permit the sharing of information with other providers (freely and without patient consent) for the purposes of patient treatment.
  3. Answer general patient questions. There’s no HIPAA bar to providing this information.
  4. Keep family members in the loop. There’s no need to let HIPAA prevent family members  from being engaged and involved in a patient’s care.  There is wide latitude under HIPAA to inform a patient’s family members about his or her status – and this extends to electronic communication with family members, too.
  5. Use common sense and reasonable practices to ensure the privacy and security of communication with patients. This general rule of thumb applies whether the communication is by email, SMS, fax or instant message — just like it would for phone or face-to-face communication.

Click here for more information about HIPAA.

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