Healthcare News & Insights

Positive social networking: 7 rules for providers

Most doctors frequently use social media for both personal and professional purposes. That creates risks for hospitals. 

Using social networking sites can have many benefits for healthcare providers. For example, many hospitals and doctors are using Facebook, Twitter and other sites to:

  • market their services and attract new patients
  • promote general health and wellness, and
  • recruit employees.

On top of those business uses, doctors, nurses and other healthcare employees do a lot of personal social networking, just like people in any other industry. But in healthcare, social media comes with a unique set of risks.

For instance, employees may post information online that violates patient privacy. Even doctors, who should know better, can be careless when it comes to social networking activity.

Guidelines for docs

To avoid those problems, it’s important that doctors and others know some guidelines for positive social networking. Apparently, issues are becoming common enough that state agencies are now creating rules on social media for doctors.

For example, Rhode Island’s medical licensing board recently approved a set of guidelines for the appropriate use of social media in medical practices.

The nuts and bolts of the rules: Doctors will be held accountable for what they post to social media sites.

These are some of the specific guidelines, which are good to follow for medical professionals in all states:

  1. Doctors should have separate personal and professional accounts.
  2. Doctors should avoid interacting with current or previous patients using a personal account, and those interactions should only directly relate to the person’s care.
  3. Photos of patients should never be posted.
  4. Medical professionals should never post any information about a specific patient that could in any way be traced back to the person.
  5. Information about the organization should be accurate and up to date.
  6. General medical information should be accurate and not ambigious or able to be taken out of context.
  7. Doctors should behave in a professional manner at all times, even when they aren’t discussing actual work.

Examples of social media mistakes

While appropriate social networking may seem like it should be common sense for doctors and other medical professionals, here are some examples of mistakes clinicians might make:

  • Posting a video for a hospital marketing effort that includes clips of real patients being treated. If any patients’ faces are visible, that would constitute a violation of privacy.
  • Venting about patients who fail to take medication or take other steps, using disparaging language about one patient in particular. Even if the person isn’t identified, the patient could find the post and know who is being discussed.
  • Discussing “partying” on a personal Facebook page. If patients see such posts they could become worried about the doctor’s professionalism.

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