Healthcare News & Insights

Help doctors use social networking safely: 3 keys

More doctors and hospitals are learning the benefits social networking sites can offer – but unfortunately, they’re also finding those sites create plenty of legal and security risks. 

In a recent survey, more than 90% of doctors said they use at least one social network, including 65% who use those sites for professional purposes. The top uses of social media for doctors include sharing experiences and advice with their peers and developing referral networks.

Also, many hospitals and other healthcare organizations are using corporate social media accounts to help their marketing strategies.

But despite social media’s benefits for doctors and healthcare organizations, if those sites aren’t used properly, they can cause big trouble. For example, serious privacy violations can occur if the wrong patient information is put online, and a hospital’s reputation could be damaged by what employees post.

Here are some keys organizations can use to prevent doctors and staff members from using social media in a way that causes problems:

1. Train

This includes not only doctors who are using social networks for marketing, but also nurses and any staff members who have access to patient data. Administrative staff can pose threats by making comments on their own social media profiles, as one hospital employee recently made headlines for doing.

Training should include examples of violations, while also pointing out the benefits of social networks so doctors and other employees understand how it can help them do their jobs better.

2. Write a policy

Social media policies should be kept as simple as possible and encourage employees to use good judgement and approach social networking activity the way they would any public conversation.

Here are some tips to consider for developing a strong social media policy:

  1. Specify who’s allowed to use social media in connection with the organization — For example, you may want to specify that administrative staff shouldn’t mention the organization while using their personal social media accounts.
  2. Incorporate existing guidelines — Many of the rules for social media use won’t be new, but should simply be reminders that existing standards governing the doctor-patient relationship apply to online activity as well.
  3. Identify personally identifiable patient information that should never be posted — That includes photographs and patient names and other demographic data.
  4. Consider the organization’s reputation — In addition to guarding against privacy violations, social media policies should also address how employees are allowed to discuss the organization online and how negative comments from people outside the organization should be addressed.

3. Think twice

Doctors and other employees should be reminded that everything put on a social networking is public and permanent. Though social networks each have their own privacy controls, nothing is ever really private. And once something is posted, it can archived and saved elsewhere even if it’s deleted by the author.

A good rule for healthcare professionals using social media is to treat everything with that in mind. If it’s not something they’d be comfortable putting on a billboard outside the office, it doesn’t belong online.

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