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Use these tips to avoid common pitfalls of using social media
e-Reports, April 4, 2011
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While use of social media has many benefits in health care, physicians should be aware of the legal risks, advised Susan Ziel, a nurse attorney and partner with Krieg DeVault. During a recent ISMA-sponsored webinar, Ziel discussed how physicians could protect their practices while reaping the benefits of an online presence.

First, Ziel recommends you create a HIPAA-compliant policy for your social media program.

“Make sure your HIPAA policies are up to date and that they address the use of social media,” she said. “For example, patient success stories or photos posted on your site must be HIPAA compliant.”

What is social media?

  • Websites, such as Facebook, LinkedIN, Twitter, MySpace, YouTube
  • Email
  • Blogs
  • Text messages

Ziel offered these additional suggestions:

  • If your practice establishes a social media site, do so only to “push out” information. Permitting two-way communications with “friends” or others could create unwanted legal risks, not to mention critical or unsolicited communications. Any posts on your social media site should always be accurate, complete and thoughtful.
  • Any use of online coupons for your health care services should be evaluated in accordance with applicable federal laws that prohibit certain items and services to be made available to Medicare and Medicaid patients on a free or discounted basis.
  • Obtain permission to reprint any third-party articles and attribute all quotes in order to avoid copyright infringement.
  • Do not use emails or other personal information about your practice and staff to avoid any invitation to patients or other third parties to communicate by email.

Employees online
Ziel also suggested you consult with an employment law counsel to update your human resources policies. The document should address how social media is used by the practice to evaluate prospective employees and how current employees’ use of social media sites will be monitored.

“Make it clear to your staff that they must use all social media sites responsibly so to avoid any communications that could unfavorably impact the reputation, relationships or resources of your physician practice,” she said.

For questions about your use of social media, call Ziel at (317) 238-6244 or email her.

Find the AMA policy on physician use of social media on the AMA website.

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