What are the Legal Implications for Doctors, Nurses and Hospitals Engaging in Social Media?

By Barbara Ficarra, RN, BSN, MPA with David Harlow, Esq.

This is the first of a three part post addressing the legal concerns of social networking in the health care arena.

Legal expert, David Harlow, Esq., Health Care Attorney and Consultant at The Harlow Group, LLC in Boston, addresses the legal issues.

Q:  Barbara:
What are the legal implications for doctors, nurses and hospitals engaging in social media?

A:  David: Health care providers are concerned about HIPAA privacy issues – HIPAA violations may occur as a result of staff posts, or as a result of patient, family or caregiver posts – as well as potential liability for medical advice provided on line.  Physicians and nurses have been sanctioned and fired for privacy breaches via social media, so these are real concerns.  Some communications that folks think are OK may in fact be violations of HIPAA or state privacy laws, so great care in training is needed.  In addition, information that we may have considered to be “de-identified” under HIPAA may, in fact be readily “re-identified.”  As the pace of technological change only increases, the ability to re-identify protected health information increases as well.  With appropriate policies, training and safeguards in place, privacy concerns can be addressed effectively.  It is important for clinicians to understand when to take the conversation off line so that they are not practicing medicine online in a public forum, possibly with a person with whom there is no pre-existing patient relationship.  Private channels exist to facilitate such interactions, but social media settings are not the right place for them.  Since the majority of people in the U.S. expect their physicians and hospitals to be online, it is imperative as a marketing and communications matter to be there.  I’m here to tell you that the legal issues, while not inconsequential, should not bar any health care provider from engaging in social media tactics in furtherance of its marketing and communications strategy.

About David Harlow, Esq.

David Harlow, health care attorney and consultant, principal at The Harlow Group LLC in Boston, who blogs at http://healthblawg.com and may be found on Twitter at http://twitter.com/healthblawg.

Your Turn

We would love to hear from you.   Are you a doctor, nurse, other health care professional or hospital who engages in social media?  What are the challenges you face with social media?  Do you engage with patients online?  What tips do you have for a successful social media experience?

As always, thank you for your valuable time.

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Related Posts

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    Online Therapy Institute has created an ethical framework for mental health professionals who use social media. We agree that mental health practitioners need to be mindful of how they use social media. Our framework can be viewed here: http://www.onlinetherapyinstitute.com/ethical-framework-for-the-use-of-social-media-by-mental-health-professionals/ 

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