Assessing privacy, bandwidth concerns key for providers entering social media

Privacy rules under HIPAA, malpractice liability and professional responsibility codes are among the many reasons providers choose not to enter the social media realm, according to blogger David Harlow, a healthcare attorney and consultant. However, he says, "comprehensive" social media policies--created on a case-by-case basis--can help to leverage the medium successfully for practices and organizations.

In his latest post, Harlow outlines strategies providers can implement on the road to creating such policies. For starters, he says, if you're tempted to post about a specific case but do not have the patient's consent, you should instead write about composite or fictionalized patients.

"Providers may wish to rewrite their HIPAA [notice of privacy practices] to include some level of consent to communication with or about a patient on Facebook, for example, if that is something that would make sense, and that might happen on a regular basis," he adds.

Harlow encourages providers to shift online, pointing out than that's where more and more patients are located. He points to the rise of "e-patients" as one reason doctors and healthcare organizations should have a social media presence, noting that these individuals are eager to engage with the physicians in person and online.

For providers who still don't believe in social media, Harlow suggests establishing a "listening post," if for no other reason than to keep tabs on what's being said online (complaints, recommendations, etc.)

In a similar pair of blog posts, Howard Luks, MD--a New York-based orthopedic surgeon who encourages doctors to embrace social media--writes that social media is "rapidly becoming a necessity for healthcare professionals." He, too, brings up the argument for keeping an eye on comments/reviews that can impact reputation, as well as the benefits of easy outreach to patients.

"Human beings are innately social, health is social, [healthcare] is NOT social--and needs to catch up," he writes.

Luks advises providers to take a "marathon" approach to building a social media presence, rather than simply sprinting to create Twitter and Facebook accounts. "Your preparation for a healthcare social media presence must begin offline," he writes.

He suggests taking stock of bandwidth and skill sets going into such a task, as lack of passion and commitment can lead to the effort "quickly becoming a chore" and ultimately "an abject failure."

To learn more:
- here's Harlow's post
- read Luks' posts here and here