Four Ways Medical Practices Can Reduce Social Media Risks

September 25, 2013
Aubrey Westgate

Ensure your social media activity does not cause problems for your practice.

In a recent blog, we shared five of the biggest risk areas practices face due to physicians' and staff's personal social media use.

If your physicians and staff are aware of these risk areas, it will go a long way toward ensuring that your practice does not face a HIPAA violation or a lawsuit, and that your physicians do not face disciplinary actions for their online activity.

But there are other ways to protect your practice and your physicians, Ann McNary, senior risk manager at Arlington, Va.-based Professional Risk Management Services, Inc., told Physicians Practice. Here are four of her tips:

1. Create and implement a social media policy for your practice. This policy should include guidance regarding what is appropriate and what is inappropriate to disclose online, said McNary. "That can kind of go hand-in-hand with their HIPAA training that they are already doing." 

2. Ask staff and physicians to maintain good privacy controls on their personal social media pages. This reduces the likelihood that patients will "friend" physicians and staff. That, in turn, decreases the likelihood that patients will see a post or photo they might find inappropriate. Maintaining good privacy controls also helps enforce boundaries between physicians and patients.

3. Encourage patients to connect in other ways. If a physician does receive a "friend request" from a patient, the physician should ask the patient to become a "fan" of the practice's Facebook page (if it has one) instead, said McNary.  Ask staff to take the same approach. "The boundaries are less rigid [than with physicians] but I think that it’s probably preferable to have internal policies where staff members don’t friend their patients," she said. "I know that you’re going to have instances where people are practicing in a small town and everybody knows everybody ... but I think it’s probably just a better practice to make sure that everybody is keeping their personal and their professional life separated."

4. Use social media to your advantage. Encourage physicians to create a professional LinkedIn account. "LinkedIn is something that scores very high on Google so that if a patient were to search for a doctor that might be one of the first hits," said McNary, adding that this helps with online reputation management. "That allows the doctor to kind of control the first thing they see about my practice."