Social Media and Healthcare: Unprofessional Conduct and What It Can Cost
December 03, 2014
In this electronic age, Social Media has quickly become a very successful tool used for advertising/marketing, communication of various topics and reaching readers and networks beyond our wildest dreams. These networks are often leading to various opportunities or other positive occurrences that we may not have otherwise experienced. Social Media may include sites such as FaceBook, Twitter, LinkedIn, e-mails, blogs, websites and other online applications that can be used to communicate with others or share messages.
On account of many styles of use we have with media outlets, it probably comes as no surprise that Social Media conduct has become a concern to both federal and state governments. Like the good things and the opportunity that Social Media helps us to accomplish, the less than optimal things are equally possible. It should come as no surprise that on the other side of positivity and possibility there is also the reality that Social Media is a very useful and revealing tool used in investigations for multiple levels of government. Reputations have been damaged, thieves have been caught, jobs have been lost and almost everything else you can imagine. Social Media is a powerful and explosive tool and the degree in which it helps or hinders us comes down to none other than our own understanding of Social Media and how we conduct ourselves, both personally and professionally on the World Wide Web.
A 2010 survey, per the Association of State Medical Boards notes that 92% of Medical Boards have indicated that violations of online professionalism had been reported within their jurisdiction. Many of these resulted in disciplinary actions that varied to the following degrees: Issuance of formal warning, license limitation, license suspension, license revocation. Due to the increasing popularity of the Social Media and also the aforementioned statistic, practices are very strongly urged to make implementing a sound Compliance Plan a priority. Of course, along with the other components of a Compliance Plan, a clear Social Media policy must be addressed. In fact, some states identify the basic principles to cover in your Social Media policy. Continue reading to learn some of those basic dos and don'ts that should be addressed in all practices.
Social Media continues to be used by more and more businesses today. While there are many benefits in using Social Media, there are also dangers that must be evaluated and addressed for Chiropractic practices and other medical facilities. Every practice should have a clearly written policy addressing Social Media which outlines guidelines and boundaries that must be adhered to by all doctors, staff and any others that may have direct knowledge of practice operations (ex. family).
Why it matters:
First and foremost, it is important to understand that nothing is private on the internet. Once something is posted online, it can be located. In many cases, deleted files can even be retrieved. With social sites such as FaceBook, Twitter & others, posts can be linked to, re-posted, screen shots can be taken and used in other unauthorized manners, etc.
Do not post something online which can potentially reveal information that you don't have the authority to reveal. Do not post something online that could be viewed as harmful to another individual.
Penalties for such Breaches:
Penalties are painful and they will continue to become even more stringent as issues with Social Media and professional conduct is coming into greater awareness.
Depending upon the nature of the circumstance, be it lack of professionalism, an issue that is unethical or a breach of patient privacy, there may not be a second chance to correct the error. Penalties vary from providers or professionals being charged with civil or criminal sanctions and even license suspension to license revocation.
The following will outline some common Dos and Don'ts in regards to proper Social Medial etiquette for professionals. Don't:
-Don't post revealing information of a specific patient such as symptoms, complaints and other descriptive information which may (even if the chance is slight) allow another individual to potentially identify the patient
-Don't post names of patients
-Don't post pictures of your patients (depending upon the circumstance of the photo, you may get proper written authorization from a patient which very clearly describes what is being done with their photo and to what degree it may be viewed. Your patient should also be made aware that he/she has the authority to request the removal of the photo at their own discretion. This being said, it is best to avoid posting patient pictures altogether so as to ensure their privacy.)
-Don't indicate or hint at the likeliness that you have treated or are treating a specific individual
-Don't post information regarding your business or the people employed by it that may be professionally harmful
-Don't solicit people from business pages/posts unless they seek you out
-Don't post data or make recommendations without the proper disclaimers, that may be viewed and used by another individual possibly in another state where the said recommendations are out of their scope of practice.
-Do not discuss topics that are outside of your own scope of practice. This could potentially give the wrong message or impression as to your qualifications.
-Don't give medical treatment advice to patients or potential patients. You must use appropriate means of communication where you are able to privately communicate with an individual regarding their own personal symptoms or complaints.
-Don't post personal data on a professional or business social networking application. You must avoid allowing confusion between personal and professional relationships.
-Do post invitations or reminders of events your practice may be having or attending that you would like your online followers to know about.
-Do introduce new services or products that you would like people to know about
-Do introduce your team or a new employee
-Do share sales or specials that you would like people to know about (although these must adhere to your local advertising guidelines to avoid penalties)
-Do post reminder messages — where you are, how to reach you, your web address, etc.
-Do post updates in hours such as vacation or holiday closures, etc.
-Do post generic bits of information that are intended to target a specific market. For example, if you like to treat athletes, you may post something about proper hydration or proper stretching to avoid injuries.
-Do use caution when communicating or responding to posts from patients or potential patients where the provider/patient relationship could be misinterpreted.
As a final note, doctors and business owners do have to be careful so as to not dictate how an employee or other applicable individual is allowed to use their personal Social Media applications. However, you can be clear as to what, in regards to your business and your patients, is and is not permitted to be posted. Everyone should also recognize that the language and demeanor used when posting, re-posting or responding to another post should be appropriate for the entire audience it is likely or able to be viewed by. These guidelines should be strictly enforced in your practices.
Social networking has the benefit of creating a ripple effect allowing people and businesses to share information, insights and to communicate to the masses. Of course, if this is handled unethically, unprofessionally or if unauthorized data is shared, this ripple effect works the same way. Not only can it be potentially harmful to others but also yourself, your reputation, your business and your future can be impacted.
Of course, with Social Media being the primary topic of this article, do remember that a breach or mishandling in any area of compliance can be very costly to a practice. These easily avoidable happenings can be detrimental to the health of a bank account and can even cost doctor or practitioner's license as well as jail time and/or various of other penalties.
Don't wait to implement a Social Media policy or to get a Compliance Plan established for your practice. Reach out for help as needed and take those essential steps toward even further protecting yourself, your patients, your team and your practice.