Healthcare News & Insights

How hospitals can best leverage social media

Social media is changing how patients interact and perceive their hospitals and physicians, but it isn’t all good news for your facility — there are serious risks involved with these online tools. 

522448245Social media use in health care is a mixed bag of pros and cons, depending on how your facility and physicians use websites like Facebook or Twitter to interact with patients, according to a recent post on OncLive. For example, social media can help create support groups for patients with chronic conditions, but it could also expose you and your physicians to legal risks or lead to HIPAA violations.

To leverage social media and limit potential repercussions, hospital leaders should consider some of these pros and cons in order to create effective policies on how your facility and physicians use social media:

Patient-physician engagement

Pros: Advocates of social media have said sites like Facebook make it much easier to communicate with patients and establish stronger patient-physician relationships. This has made it easier for some facilities to create patient groups that provide information and support for chronic disease management. Some patients have even begun reaching out to their physicians for additional information after a visit.

Cons: Unfortunately, direct or mass communications with patients can expose protected health information (PHI) and violate HIPAA privacy rules. Patients are able to identify themselves as patients on social media, but physicians are under a much stricter standard. Even without revealing a patient’s name, your physicians could violate HIPAA by posting characteristics which could reveal a patient’s identity.

Physician-to-physician collaboration

Pros: Some social media sites allow providers to share information and resources with colleagues. This can be useful when treating patients with rare conditions or unusual symptoms. This kind of online collaboration can also be beneficial to facilities in rural areas where certain specialists may be hard to come by.

Cons: These online discussions could also potentially violate HIPAA since online posts can often be searched and discovered by patients, who might misconstrue or misunderstand the information. To avoid HIPAA penalties and malpractice claims, your facility should enforce a policy that these online discussions exclude information that might identify the patient, and include a disclaimer that the commentary should not be considered a consultation.

Marketing with social media

Pros: Social media sites can help your facility market itself in a variety of ways. One example: Hiring managers could use social media to expand your pool of job applicants. Similarly, websites like Yelp and RateMD can be used as another resource to promote and advertise your facility. Encouraging satisfied patients to leave positive reviews can also help make your facility more “searchable” on these sites and lead to a higher number of referrals.

Cons: HIPAA privacy rules require patients’ written permission  before their information can be used for marketing campaigns. Providers also have to disclose any conflict of interest, such as whether compensation was given for mentioning specific products or services.

Subscribe Today

Get the latest and greatest healthcare news and insights delivered to your inbox.