Tips for Avoiding HIPAA Violations on Social Media
- Posted on: Sep 3 2014
Social media certainly has its advantages for medical practices when it comes to branding and marketing yourself to new patients. However, social media has placed many medical professionals in the crossfire of HIPAA violations. With little guidance, it’s easy for medical professionals to make small mistakes with big consequences over the internet. The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services has published their policies on social media and can be read here. To follow are some social media tips for keeping your online presence authoritative, professional and relevant while protecting the privacy of your patients.
- Never discuss any information specific to patients— even in general terms. For example, a plastic surgeon posts about a 25 year old female who underwent breast reduction surgery. It is easy for anyone viewing that post to assume who that patient may be based off of time frame (date posted), geography (your practice’s address is public information), sex and age. Followers can look at posts and draw generalizations quickly, “Hey, didn’t Jenn get a breast reduction? That must be her! What was her surgeon’s name again?”
- Don’t write about research on social media or blogs— save that information for medical journals. With social media and blog writing, it’s always best to write for your target audience. Resist the use of medical jargon and storytelling language in posts and blogs.
- Be your real self online. Social media provides a veil of anonymity, however, the drawbacks of anonymity is that your audience is less likely to view your online presence as authoritative, and it won’t benefit your practice. When posting anonymously, individuals tend to stray from how they would normally speak and write.
- If you wouldn’t say it to a patient’s face in a consultation, then it’s a good idea not to post it online.
- Establish and maintain a professional tone.
- Use separate accounts for personal and private social media interactions. Since doctors’ names are public, it is advised to put personal social media accounts under nicknames or aliases. Intentionally make sure that your private accounts remain undiscovered by patients.
Presenting interesting, relevant, and valuable information to new and existing patients over social media can be beneficial to your medical practice.
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