4 easy-to-miss social media safeguards for physician offices

While the potential benefits of social media in healthcare are vast, so too are the consequences for physicians or organizations whose representatives don't post carefully.

One careless tweet or post could potentially undermine a physician's practice strong reputation that took years to build, according to a recent post on OncLive. What's more, penalties for data breaches under HIPAA increased under the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act and the majority of social media platforms are not capable of encryption.

To that end, consider the following reminders for safe and compliant social media management:

  • Although patients of a practice may identify themselves on social media as such, physicians and employees must avoid revealing any distinguishing characteristics--not just names--that might enable a reader to identify the patients.
  • Establish a social media policy for all practice personnel and review it annually. Among other rules, this policy should discourage employees from engaging with patients on social media and prohibit employees from mentioning patient-related matters on their personal social media sites.
  • Physicians must not respond to a patient's post in a way that someone could construe as medical advice, especially across state lines. Even if the doctor hasn't previously seen the patient in the office, such an online exchange could mark the legal beginning of the physician-patient relationship.
  • When discussing cases with other physicians via social media, each physician should provide a disclaimer that the commentary is not to be considered a consultation. Physicians also still need to heed HIPAA and confidentiality requirements, so they must sanitize patient-identifying details even on physician-only sites.

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