Alright, time for round #2. In the first part of this series, I talked about what’s currently being done with social media in the health care field. It was A LOT of information. If you haven’t checked it out, do so here. After researching all of the really innovative ways in which hospitals and healthcare professionals are using social media, I began to wonder about how they do it. So that is where we will be going today. Hopefully by the end of this post, we will be able to see why social media in healthcare is such a intricate topic and how those who are already using social media figured it out.
For various reasons, I’ve been to my local emergency room quite a few times. After talking with the nurse at the desk for what seems like an eternity to update all of my personal information, I’m always handed a packet of information about the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act of 1996, more commonly referred to as HIPAA. Do I ever read this packet? Absolutely not. Usually, I put it back on the counter so they aren’t wasting the paper on me. It’s not that I don’t recognize the need for the information, it’s just not the most captivating read. For those of you getting ready to exit out of your browser thinking that I’m going to try and explain every aspect of HIPAA in the next couple of paragraphs, don’t. I’m not even going to give it a shot. I searched around on the internet, trying to find a quick overview of the legislation and couldn’t find a whole lot that was short enough. I did find one article that summed it up fairly well, but I still don’t want to waste anyones time trying to explain it. You can check out the article here, and I will summarize HIPAA as legislation that protects your personal health informtation. Basically, hospitals and doctors can’t share your information with just anyone.
HIPAA creates a headache for hospitals and doctors when it comes to social media. There are so many regulations regarding the methods by which a doctor can share information with a patient, that tweeting medical information is enough to give a doctor nightmares. I came across an interesting article in The New England Journal of Medicine. The article is written from the prospective of a doctor who was sent a friend request through Facebook by a former patient. From the perspective of doctors and hospitals, it is understandable to question the appropriateness of such a situation. What if the doctor has pictures on his or her Facebook profile that aren’t very professional? What if these pictures hurt his or her credibility as a physician? What if the former patient asks the doctor a medical question through a wall post? Would answering violate HIPAA? These are all legitimate questions to ask and risks to consider. Check out these quotes:
“Caution is recommended . . . in using social networking sites such as Facebook or MySpace. Items that represent unprofessional behavior that are posted by you on such networking sites reflect poorly on you and the medical profession. Such items may become public and could subject you to unintended exposure and consequences.”- Harvard Medical School, Dean for Medical Education Jules Dienstag
“Programs/employers are increasingly gaining access to social networking sites such as Facebook and MySpace to see what they can learn about candidates.” – Drexel University College of Medicine
These quotes may be alarming as they express concerns that all professionals should consider, in healthcare of otherwise. But take a closer look. The one thing these quotes don’t do, is tell future doctors that they can’t use social media. All that is suggested by these quotes is to use caution in what you post, something that is relevant to anyone using social media. Take a second to look back over the previous post, specifically the 5 examples of how social media is already being used in healthcare. Live procedures, training, crisis communications, research and education..important steps being taken by the industry today! The potential benefits are extremely important to both healthcare professionals and patients. It’s worth finding a way to use the platforms and still meet health privacy regulations. I came across an interesting article on Top Rank Online Marketing Blog that attempts to make the case for social media in healthcare. It’s definitely worth the read, check it out here.
So the fears are very real, that much is clear. At the same time, use of social media in this field is growing. So how are they doing it? What type of guidelines are hospitals putting in place to monitor the activities of their employees online? I found a post from Marketing Your Hospital titled Create a Social Media Policy for Your Hospital. This site has a lot of great information about using social media in a hospital, definitely take the time to read it. This specific article has some great information about how to put together a social media policy for your hospital. The writer suggests that hospitals should create a policy that covers both unofficial outposts such as personal blogs and official outposts such as an official hospital blog. I’ve summarized the main points for each section below:
- Guide the employees on use of Social Media- You don’t want to scare them away, just teach them how to use it appropriately
- Remind employees that their posts reflect on both themselves and the hospital
- Work with your legal department to develop rules regarding the sharing of personal information
- Put a policy in place regarding discussions surrounding an individuals job (complaining or negative statements about the place of employment)
- Make sure employees understand what information they publish publicly and what information is private
- Define the reasons for each outpost- what are the goals of the company Twitter account, blog, etc.
- Ensure everyone using a specific account understands how to do so
- Include the current policy for corporate branding and identity
- Teach employees how to handle negative comments/complaints through these accounts
- Put specific guidelines in place regarding patient information
This information should help anyone trying to figure out how to introduce social media into a hospital/medical practice and really any business looking to create a social media policy. You can also check this list out for ideas of other businesses that have put social media policies in place. You can also look through this list of Hospital Social Media Policies.
So that’s it for today, hopefully it’s easier to understand why social media presents such barriers for the healthcare industry. On deck for next part 3 in this series is a deeper look into the benefits of social media in healthcare and the changes that are occurring with the doctor-patient relationship. Look for that post Tuesday, July 13th.
Here is a list of links on this topic that may be helpful: