Social media, medicine may be dangerous mix

Currently, at least 540 hospitals in the United States are using social media tools such as YouTube, Facebook, Twitter, and blogs to promote their message, mission and brand as well as collaborate with fellow healthcare professionals.

Despite the growing popularity and power of Tweeting from the operating room, for example, such a proliferation in public--often viral--sharing makes healthcare lawyers nervous. "Risky Business: Treating Tweeting the Symptoms of Social Media," published in the March 2010 issue of AHLA Connections, points out several of the pitfalls.

For one, a physician who shares his or her feelings about a patient online could easily run afoul of HIPAA. Unlike a passing comment at a cocktail party, the article points out, a Tweet or a Facebook status leaves a permanent record of the privacy violation.

The existence of an electronic record also marks the difference between a physician casually chatting with a neighbor about a medical concern and having that same interaction online with a Facebook "friend." Liabilities could include patient abandonment, medical malpractice, privacy violations, and more.

Although addressing employees' use of social media is a must, doing so can be difficult and potentially create animosity with hospital workers. Paul Levy, CEO at Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center in Boston, stated on his blog, Running a Hospital, "banning use of social media in the workplace will inhibit the growth of community and discourage useful information sharing." Rather, he and other experts recommend a more positive approach, emphasizing what employees "can" do with social media, such as being transparent and authentic at all times and avoiding betrayal of a patient's or colleague's trust.

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