As a regulated industry, many healthcare organizations have avoided the use of social media, and have even tried to squelch its use by their employees. However, some healthcare providers are beginning to realize that there are opportunities to serve the public, patients and physicians, all while building awareness and enhancing their brand.
Who Is Using Social Media?
Consumers, especially the younger generation, use social media to research and to make health decisions. These decisions include the selection of their doctor, hospitals and even courses of treatment for both themselves and their family, including their parents. These consumers are well-versed in social media and expect their providers to be equally adept.
Patients, who are already active social media users, consider themselves part of a tribe and tend to trust others on social media more than other sources. It only makes sense that they will use social media to connect with each other to share their experiences with both rare and common disease and health issues.
Physicians can use social media to network professionally with colleagues and peers and to share medical knowledge within the medical community. Some doctors also believe that the authenticity of social media can drive better quality of care.
In short, social media is a platform where the public, patients and healthcare professionals can communicate about health issues and possibly improve health outcomes. However, as the healthcare industry slowly begins to embrace social media, the legal and risks of non-compliance with rules and regulations have never been higher.
Compliance With Rules and Regulations
There are multiple federal and state rules and regulations that govern communications within the healthcare industry. One of the main challenges facing healthcare organizations is the protection of the privacy of patient information. To this end, firms must also show that they are supervising the activities of their employees with access to patient information. Companies planning to use social media also need to ensure that their electronic records are complete, secure and tamper-proof for record retention and audit purposes. Non-compliance with healthcare regulations can not only damage the reputation of a firm, it can also impact the bottom-line.
In addition to being compliant with various rules and regulations, healthcare providers should also consider legal issues such as patient privacy, litigation and physician licensing before using social media.
Federal and state privacy laws limit providers’ unfettered ability to interact with patients through social media because anything that can be used to identify a patient, including pictures, is protected. Should patient information be disclosed through social media without patient authorization, providers would be subject to fines
Healthcare providers are vulnerable to lawsuits from a wide variety of sources. Firms may be required to produce information requested by the opposing party, which may include social media. This means that firms need to be prepared to capture, archive and make all electronic communications available on demand. Expensive fines, loss of the lawsuits and negative publicity could result if this is managed poorly, or not at all.
Healthcare professionals need to be careful about providing medical advice to patients using social media. If a patient receiving the medical advice from a doctor through social media is located in a state in which the doctor is not licensed, the doctor giving the advice risks liability under state licensing laws.
Use Social Media Effectively And Compliantly
In spite of the risks, healthcare organizations can begin to use social media to support better health outcomes for the community. However, before they begin, they need to follow some steps to stay compliant and to help avert legal issues:
Does anyone have additional suggestions on setting up social media programs at healthcare organizations?
and other penalties.