As the use of social media continues to grow in leaps and bounds, physicians are increasingly trying to find ways to maximize its potential to improve healthcare delivery. “Social media can be an important means for medical practices to raise awareness about healthcare and to further educate and engage patients,” says Stephen R. McCallister, CPEHR, CPHIT. “The average person has more than 200 friends on Facebook, for example. Those connections can mean a lot for practices to gain exposure in the community.”
Despite its potential benefits, history has shown that use of social media to influence healthcare can go wrong in some instances. “There are cases in which social media use has led to HIPAA violations by staff who do not fully understand the inherent lack of privacy in posts,” explains McCallister. “Considering the risks, physician practices often utilize a ‘defensive policy’ in which they restrict staff use of social media.” The thought behind this rationale is what is not said cannot hurt you.
Rather than fall victim to defensive policies on social media, McCallister advices physician practices to seek a balance to protect patient privacy and discourage public relations mistakes. Such a balance also requires knowing your staff and making efforts to show pride in the healthcare institution’s work. McCallister says that designing a good social media policy can lead to a more positive experience for physicians and their patients.
According to McCallister, physician practices should keep things simple when developing social media policies. “It’s important to develop policies that are direct and to the point,” he says. “Practices should determine how they value social media while maintaining compliance with HIPAA laws and regulations. Ideally, social media can enhance the professional image of practices and help ensure that the workplace is both productive and focused.”
In addition, practices are recommended to avoid being too specific with social media policies because the technology is constantly evolving. Policies will likely need to be revisited frequently in order to ensure that they do not become obsolete.
Use Available Resources
Several professional groups and organizations throughout the United States have developed easily adaptable policies for social media use that are available online. One such group, Social Media Governance, provides a comprehensive database of such policies from the professional sector, including healthcare, at http://socialmediagovernance.com/policies/. McCallister adds that the American Medical the Association and National Council of State Boards of Nursing also provide valuable resources for physicians and nurses. “These resources can be an important asset when developing, integrating, and reevaluating social media policies,” says McCallister.
According to McCallister, an important overriding goal when developing a policy for social media should be to consider the positives and negatives of using these platforms. “Even in small practice settings, you can reach thousands of people with positive messages if the right policy is in place,” he says.
Social Media Governance. Social Media Policy Database. Available at: http://socialmediagovernance.com/policies/.
American Medical Association. Professional Guidelines for Social Media Use: A Starting Point.
Available at: http://journalofethics.ama-assn.org/2015/05/nlit1-1505.html.
Association and National Council of State Boards of Nursing. Social Media Guidelines for Nurses. Available at: https://www.ncsbn.org/347.htm.