Healthcare News & Insights

Study: 6% of doctors violate patient privacy on Twitter

Hospitals have likely been warned to make sure their employees’ social media mistakes don’t end up violating patients’ privacy. Should they be worried about doctors, too? 

social mediaSocial networks can benefit hospitals, which many organizations have realized by turning to Facebook, Twitter and other sites for their marketing and patient outreach efforts. But social media creates new risks, too.

One of the biggest concerns is that hospital staffers will violate patient privacy by sharing too much information about people online.

For example, in one case last year, a nursing assistant was charged after taking inappropriate photos of a patient and posting them on Facebook.

The main challenge for hospital management: People like talking about their lives online, and that includes what happens to them at work. And for medical professionals, revealing too much about their jobs can create problems.

Even physicians aren’t immune from committing social media gaffes, according to a recent study published in the British Medical Journal.

Large number of ‘unprofessional’ tweets

Researchers examined the Twitter accounts of 237 doctors and medical students, looking at a total of more than 13,000 tweets.

What they found: 26 of the messages, posted by 15 different users, contained specific information about patients that might have violated privacy laws. In other words, 6% of the physicians made one or more potentially serious social media mistake. While no personal ID numbers were given, those tweets did contain specific information about individual patients and their situations.

In addition to those problems, researchers also identified another 250 doctors tweets that were otherwise labeled as being “unprofessional.”

That group included messages unrelated to health care, including tweets about being drunk or hung over or that contained profane or sexual content, as well as many health-related tweets, including those discussing self-medication and complaining about the work environment.

What it means for hospitals: Many organizations likely have policies in place regarding social media use and train staff members on what problems they should avoid. But it seems like it may also pay off to give doctors some guidance on the do’s and don’ts of social media, too.

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