Legal “gotchas” of communicating radiology info on social media

By Staff News Brief

Radiologists who share medical information with other clinicians and patients on social media must be aware of legal issues so that they do not inadvertently violate the law. A multi-institutional team of interventional radiologists explained the legal caveats of tweeting and communicating via email in the June issue of the Journal of Vascular and Interventional Radiology.

Lead author Osman Ahmed, MD, assistant professor in interventional radiology at Rush University Medical Center in Chicago, and co-authors caution that social media communications about interventional radiology cases are potentially vulnerable to patient privacy violations. Superimposed text on diagnostic images may not be sufficiently anonymized and specific details may be able to be linked to a patient, violating the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act (HIPAA). HIPAA defines protected health information (PHI) as any information that can be used to identify an individual. This includes a patient’s name, birthdate, demographic information, photographs, and medical record numbers.

In addition to carefully inspecting images to verify that they have been de-identified, radiologists should avoid communicating the following:

  • Specific age. (The phrase “an 86-year old male” could be replaced with “an elderly male over 75 years”);
  • Detailed descriptions of interactions that could be linked with a specific patient;
  • Dates of examination or interventional procedure;
  • Details of patient history; and,
  • Imaging characteristics unique to a specific patient (for example, earlier surgical hardware or an indwelling vena cava filter).

Radiologists who receive questions from individuals should be particularly cautious about responding online. The authors caution that giving medical advice online could expose physicians to legal action, especially if the physician is not licensed in the state where the person seeking medical advice lives. Radiologists should be aware that they do not have the history of the patient or information required to provide a response and that this may put them in legal jeopardy.

The authors recommend that radiologists with concerns about messages they are sending should seek legal advice and guidelines from their affiliated hospitals.


  1. Ahmed O, Jilani S, Ginsburg M, et al. You are what you tweet: Navigating legal issues in social media for interventional radiologists. J Vasc Interv Radiol. 2018 29(6):816-818.
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Legal “gotchas” of communicating radiology info on social media.  Appl Radiol. 

By Staff News Brief| August 09, 2018

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