Guest Columns

Social media: A risk analysis

Betty Norman
Betty Norman

More and more healthcare professionals are utilizing mobile devices professionally at work. Many are now relying on mobile devices, social media and the Internet to support professional activities, as well as for personal use.

Businesses, including healthcare organizations, are also using social media with increasing frequency to promote programs/services, announce new achievements, advertise events and even to allow patients and families the ability to share their stories. In lieu of disturbing stories about applications such as Snapchat, it's a good time to review best practices. 

To start, set an internal policy so everyone is clear about the expected practice and what serves as appropriate and inappropriate use.

Examples of inappropriate social media use would include:

  • Patient names
  • Patient photos or images
  • Photos that contain private health information (PHI) in the background
  • Information that might be traceable back to a patient
  • Disparaging remarks about a patient(s), family  members or co-worker
  • Unapproved comments made on behalf of the organization

Given the fact that many healthcare professionals are active on social media sites, it is important employers develop strong social media policies that outline specific guidelines for both work and personal use. Educate staff regarding these policies, the confidentiality issues and the professional expectations that come with such usage. Information technology professionals within the organization may also establish guidelines to monitor use of the Internet, including social media sites, within their network.

The National Council of State Boards of Nursing has developed guidelines for use of social media in both a professional and personal sense. Their website provides resources including a free, downloadable brochure entitled, “A Nurse's Guide to the Use of Social Media.” The brochure includes valuable information on confidentiality and privacy issues and the potential consequences of inappropriate posts. In addition, the Federation of State Medical Boards published “Model Policy Guidelines for the Appropriate Use of Social Media and Social Networking in Medical Practice,” for their physician members. These guidelines are available at fsmb.org. Both of these organizations provide concrete examples of appropriate and inappropriate use of social media that can be used as staff training tools.

Some simple tips to keep in mind:

  1. Confidentiality and privacy are of the utmost concern – Postings should not include patient identifiable information due to a potential HIPAA violation and privacy issues.
  2. Avoid postings that include patient images – Even a favorite patient who asks for a photo together can result in problems.
  3. Keep content professional – It's important for healthcare professionals to maintain professionalism. Photos or narratives of being intoxicated or involved in compromising activities, even during off hours, can lead to complicated matters.
Betty Norman, BSN, MBA, CPHRM, is Risk Control Director at Glatfelter Healthcare Practice, part of Glatfelter Program Managers, a strategic business unit dedicated to Glatfelter Insurance Group's program business.

Guest Columns

Guest columns are written by long-term care industry experts, ranging from academics and thought leaders to administrators and CEOs.

ALL MCKNIGHT'S BLOGS