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Can the Olympics Threaten Your Medical Practice?


Medical practice owners and risk managers face a wide variety of risks including some surprising ones, like supporting your favorite Olympic athletes.

Asset protection for doctors takes many forms and I’ve discussed the wide array of personal and professional risks you face in both general and very detailed discussions. One of the risks we’ve covered in the past is the broad group of issues generally lumped into “cyber liability”. Given the recent Banner health system data breach that may have exposed 3.7 million patients', doctors' and visitors' credit card information you’d probably assume I’m talking about the exposure of sensitive data like identifying financial information and other HIPAA related issues; I’m not. One recent issue that caught my eye in the news was a story about something much more innocuous, the 2016 Rio Olympics.

A New Danger, Social Media Marketing, Patriotism and #Hashtags?

Social media marketing experts (SMMEs) have all convinced us that a social media presence is a necessity for just about every medical practice and healthcare organization. They say you need to be on all platforms with timely and engaging content. In many cases, the SMME will create a content stream or advise your internal social media managers to follow what’s trending to go get additional views. The current coverage of the Olympics has been a very hot and welcome change from the train wreck that is our current political process and news coverage. You and your team may also be genuinely excited about the games, as an American, as an athlete, or even just because an athlete from your hometown just won a medal in a sport. Regardless of your motives you are going to have to be careful about what you say and how you say it to avoid liability.

According to recent reports from a variety of sources including ESPN, Smart Company and the BBC, the United Sates Olympic Committee (USOC) and the International Olympic Committee (IOC) have both been aggressive about protecting their trademarks and want social media support using those hashtags only from official paid sponsors. The Smart Company Australia report excerpted below states:

As reported by the BBC, the USOC, which is overseen by the IOC, has been accused of “bullying” non-official sponsors that are posting about the event. The USOC holds a trademark on many Olympics related words and slogans, including “go for the gold” and “future Olympian.”

This has now expanded to the realm of social media, with the IOC trademarking a number of Olympic-related hashtags, such as #rio2016 and #teamUSA. ESPN reports a number of non-official sponsor companies that were hoping to support athletes on Twitter and Instagram, received letters from the USOC, warning them about the use of intellectual property.

“Commercial entities may not post about the Trials or Games on their corporate social media accounts,” the letter reads.

“This restriction includes the use of USOC’s trademarks in hashtags such as #Rio2016 or #TeamUSA.”

This prohibited use applies to all media like Facebook, Twitter, Instagram and whatever else you may be using and should be considered to apply to your website and print media advertising as well.  While I don’t want to scare you away from it completely and certainly don’t believe that, for instance, a small family practice in Tempe, Arizona that tweeted, “#olympics Michael Phelps we love you!!” needs to look over their shoulder, I do think that the business community has been put on notice by the business executives and lawyers that are part of these organizations and that not using the kinds of trademarked hashtags outlined above is a good idea. The IOC has used broad terms like this quote from Smart Company, “other commercial entities may not post about the Games on their corporate social media accounts. Any use of USOC trademarks on a non-media company’s website or social media site is viewed as commercial in nature and consequently is prohibited.”

I’d believe them. I’d also limit my tweets and other social media to general support and definitely avoid linked promotions like, “Get your #Rio2016Botox special now through the end of the #Olympics”. The more blatant and widely circulated, the bigger the “damages” they can claim.

In our next discussion we will talk about two vital forms of specialty liability insurance that would make a difference in facing such a claim and why your medical practice needs a social media policy.

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