How to handle sticky social media situations

"Almost universally when speaking to physicians and healthcare administrators, social media is seen from the perspective of risk and fear," said pediatric gastroenterologist Dr. Bryan Vartabedian in a recent Pediatric Grand Rounds presentation he delivered at Texas Children's Hospital.

Other physicians, such as Dr. Kevin Pho, who have led the charge into healthcare social media have expressed similar observations. However, they also have agreed that there are ways to prevent and manage online risks in ways that benefit everyone involved. Consider the following scenarios and how social media experts recommend physicians handle them:

  • A patient asks for medical advice in a public online forum. In his talk, Vartabedian, author of the blog 33 charts, described a situation in which a patient sent him a medication question via Twitter. He noted that this sort of thing happens rarely online (less frequently than it does in the grocery store, in fact), but that his first step was to message the patient back, inviting him to continue the discussion privately. As it turned out, the patient did not realize that everyone following his physician on Twitter could view all public replies to "@Doctor_V." So the next step involved educating the patient that a doctor cannot discuss anyone's protected health information in public, online or off. Finally, Vartabedian recommended doctors document such interactions in a phone note for the patient, including mention that public contact was initiated by the patient.
  • A patient writes a negative online review. Although it may seem unfair that physicians can't post about patients online but patients can post about them, the reality is that there's little doctors can do to control their patients' online behavior. And as FiercePracticeManagement previously reported, requiring patients to sign a "mutually privacy agreement" or similar document recently has been shown to be an ineffective, if not illegal, approach. Rather, experts recommend that physicians take control of their online presence by "creating a healthy online presence" of their own, noted Pho in a recent presentation to the Massachusetts Medical Society. In addition, physicians can increase the proportion and quality of positive online reviews by encouraging every patient to post their opinion about their experience online. Following a patient's second or third appointment--after any concerns arising from the first appointment have been addressed--is the ideal time to make this request, according to patient marketing firm CadenceMed.

To learn more:
- read the post from 33 charts
- see the post from HealthWorks Collective
- check out the post from CadenceMed