SOURCE: LockPath, Inc.

LockPath, Inc.

June 15, 2015 00:00 ET

Social Media in Health Care: Useful Tool or Organizational Risk?

OVERLAND PARK, KS--(Marketwired - June 15, 2015) - Hospitals, health systems, and other health care organizations are starting to see the benefits social media can have, like better serving its patients and increasing brand awareness. While some are eager to embrace the connectivity that comes with social media, others are still hesitant to expose their organization in such a heavily regulated industry.

Benefits of Social Media
According to a survey, nearly 60 percent of doctors believe social media can "enhance the quality of patient care." Most people consume information from social media more often than creating content. Doctors can take advantage of this trend by finding what information is being shared by other providers to help improve patient care. Pediatricians and family physicians have a distinct advantage in that many parents will look to Facebook and Twitter for advice on health related topics.

While patients are using social media to obtain health information, providers are using it to fill open positions. A survey by MedTechMedia found that 31 percent of health care professionals will use social media for professional networking. Through platforms like LinkedIn and Twitter, companies are able to find professionals looking for work in their area. Billing companies such as MedicalBillersandCoders.com, the largest consortium of certified coders and billers, use social media to hire skilled employees as well as provide industry news.

Social media can be a great tool for patients and physicians to share information and improve health outcomes. That being said, the looming threats of legal and privacy violations has kept many organizations from jumping on the social media bandwagon.

Drawbacks of Social Media
A post made to social media can very easily be in violation of HIPAA even if the individual who posted did not directly identify a patient. A Rhode Island physician was fired following a post she made to her personal Facebook page about a trauma patient. According to the Rhode Island Board of Medical Licensure and Discipline, the physician "did not use patient names and had no intention to reveal any confidential patient information. However, because of the nature of one person's injury…the patient was identified by unauthorized third parties." In this particular incident, the physician left out all information she thought would identify the patient and it was still not enough to be in compliance.

While privacy and compliance issues are usually top of mind when it comes to the inappropriate use of social media, the potential for reputational damage can be just as critical.

A St. Louis OB-GYN complained on Facebook about one of her patients who showed up late to appointments by saying, "So I have a patient who has chosen to either no-show or be late (sometimes hours) for all of her prenatal visits, ultrasounds, and NSTs. She is now 3 hours late for her induction. May I show up late to her delivery?"

Following a screenshot of the controversial comment posted to the hospital's Facebook page, the hospital issued a statement saying the post was not found to be a breach of privacy but that it would utilize this incident to "educate its staff about the appropriate use of social media."

The price for a privacy violation and the risk of tarnishing your organization's reputation are both damaging enough to dissuade any company from using social media. With the right policies and training health care organizations can reap the benefits of social media without exposing the company, and a governance, risk and compliance solution like LockPath's Keylight can help. Here are some steps to help maintain compliance and avoid legal issues while using social media:

  • Establish policies that address who can access social media from the organization's network and to what extent. Make sure to update any existing policies for protecting patient information as it pertains to social media.
  • Train staff on what is and is not appropriate for social media by using real life examples. Stay up to date on training and regularly test staff members on policy comprehension.
  • Develop workflows for the legal and compliance departments to approve content before it is posted.
  • Immediately respond to any complaints related to social media.
  • Actively monitor the sites that your organization sponsors. Identify potential privacy violations as early as possible.

About LockPath

LockPath is a market leader in corporate governance, risk management, regulatory compliance (GRC) and information security (InfoSec) software. The company's flexible, scalable and fully integrated suite of applications is used by organizations to automate business processes, reduce enterprise risk and demonstrate regulatory compliance to achieve audit-ready status. LockPath serves a client base of global organizations ranging from small and midsize companies to Fortune 10 enterprises in more than 15 industries. The company is headquartered in Overland Park, Kansas.

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