Summary: ‘Social Media’ is the new buzzword in our present culture, but what
really is social media? Unfortunately, no single definition is
universally accepted, as the term is still evolving.
Dr. Raskin is an Associate Professor of Radiology at the
University of Miami School of Medicine, and a neuroradiologist at the
University Hospital and Medical Center, Tamarac, FL. He is also a member
of the Applied Radiology Editorial Advisory Board.
Media’ is the new buzzword in our present culture, but what really is
social media? Unfortunately, no single definition is universally
accepted, as the term is still evolving. However, the common theme is
that social media is an internet-based type of communication. More
importantly, it is “user-generated” and describes the exchange of
information among people who have something in common. Some common examples of social media websites include Facebook, MySpace, Twitter, Linkedin, and YouTube, along with many others.
Why is social media important?
providers are already using social media to disseminate information to
patients as a way to market and brand themselves. Hospitals have been
using live-streaming video on Twitter with descriptions of complicated surgery and other procedures, as well as using Twitter
for question-and-answer sessions. Healthcare providers are also using
social networking to communicate and exchange ideas with staff. Social
networking affords healthcare providers with unique opportunities, such
as providing patient care reminders, updating family members during
surgery, connecting patients with similar diseases to each other, and
communicating with the media and local community during emergencies.
Social media and social networking are not going to go away. It is
important that healthcare providers address the challenges raised by
social networking. Although there are potential pitfalls, legal and
otherwise, social networking will forever be a part of healthcare.
What are the potential pitfalls?
providers need to take steps to protect against allegations of
wrongdoing with respect to their use of social media. First and
foremost, healthcare providers need to protect patient privacy by being HIPAA compliant.
They must obtain the authorization of the patient to post any
identifiable information on any social media network site. There is no
exception under HIPAA that allows a healthcare provider to disclose
information merely because the information has already been made public,
even if done so by the patient. Providers can also face charges for
violation of state criminal, licensure, or professional misconduct laws.
Finally, providers can also be in violation of Joint Commission and
other accreditation standards that can jeopardize their accreditation or
Another area where healthcare providers have
gotten into trouble is by violating the National Labor Relations Act
(NLRA) by not allowing “concerted activities” by employees. Concerted
activities are actions or plans that are attempted or accomplished by a
group. One type of activity protected under the NLRA involves
work-related conversations between co-workers. Any social media policy
must be narrowly tailored with a legitimate purpose so as not to
infringe upon employees’ protected rights to discuss work-related
problems, such as wages or working conditions. The NLRA restricts
overbroad drafting and enforcing of social media policies.
Do I really need to have a social media policy?
all the potential problems, not having a social media policy is just as
dangerous as having a poor one. An analogous situation would be the
potential liability one could face by not having a policy or procedure
manual on the communication of urgent or unexpected findings. Any policy
on blog posts, for example, should clearly identify the types of posts
that are unacceptable and indicate that the host has the right to refuse
or remove posts. Participants should be cautioned that they are
assuming the risk of posting personally identifiable information about
themselves. It should also be emphasized that a doctor-patient
relationship is not being established by the use of the site, or blog,
and a disclaimer should be posted stating that the provider assumes no
responsibility for any harm resulting from any material posted on the
Employees are likely already using social media and talking
about their employers. Ignoring it won’t make it go away. Without a
social media policy, providers open themselves up to the liability of
employees misrepresenting them or their practice.
Not quite primetime?
opportunities are afforded by social network sites, although the
pitfalls are also significant and not yet fully recognized. Even so,
healthcare providers need to be aware of these concerns and how to
prevent wrongful use of social networking sites. As mentioned, having no
policy on social networking may be just as dangerous as having a poor
policy. Finally, it may be undesirable, or even unrealistic, to avoid
social networking in your practice
Primetime is just around the corner.