Ohio Doctors Prescribe Social Media Guidance

October 13, 2010

The use of social media in healthcare is a growing trend and one that often leaves practices with more questions over how best - and sometimes legally - to use these new tools at their disposal. Noting both the expansion of the technology and the lack of resources for doctors, the Ohio State Medical Association is offering some help.

The use of social media in healthcare is a growing trend and one that often leaves practices with more questions over how best - and sometimes legally - to use these new tools at their disposal. Noting both the expansion of the technology and the lack of resources for doctors, the Ohio State Medical Association is offering some help.

The group recently produced a toolkit - "Social Networking and Medical Practice: Guidelines for Physicians, Office Staff, and Patients" - to provide a little assistance. The 10-page document is well-constructed, offering dos and don'ts to practices as well as sample policies on prohibited and restricted use of social media while at work.

Social media, like many technological tools, is a double-edged sword. Practices want to utilize it to its fullest advantages, but at the same time, don't want staff using it all day rather than doing their work or, worse yet, using it in a way that can harm a practice's reputation.

The Ohio group addresses these issues and in a format that can help practices nationwide, so I applaud their efforts. Larger medical groups have not taken such steps to aid doctors.

In a statement, the association's president, Richard R. Ellison, MD, notes that social media, like Twitter and Facebook, "has forever changed the way everyone communicates" but for physicians "can also pose many potential concerns."

The document makes one key point up-front: "Remember, you are just as accountable for what you write as you are for what you say, and not surprisingly, the same rules apply to both."

It's the same theory used with e-mail back in the day when it was both new and exciting and potentially dangerous because of the power of instant communication - don't type what you wouldn't say.

And the OSMA notes this when it comes to practices using social media. They say, "the easier to publish something and the less peer review there is, the more opportunities there are to make mistakes."

Great point. It can literally take seconds to Tweet, post a comment, or take another action via the Internet to jeopardize your practice, so think twice before hitting "Send." (Again, remember this from e-mail school years ago?)

I won't outline every point made by the OSMA because I think there is more value in taking the 10 minutes to download and review the document yourself. But I will glance over some interesting pieces of advice the association offers.

Like we've written about before, making a patient your "friend" on Facebook can cause trouble, so consider having a personal page, where you can do whatever you want and a professional page for your practice that your patients can become a "fan" of. Fans are just as nice as friends, remember.

The OSMA also addresses an interesting example of Web sites that rank doctors or offer grades and the consequences of replying to a negative review and how to address this with staff who no doubt, would feel defensive about their workplace.

In fact, one of the best parts of the document is the sample policies it provides. This is a tough part of the administrative work of your practice, but the OSMA has offered two levels: restricted use and prohibited use; both of great value.

"Without a question, have a social media policy and enforce it," the OSMA advises. I completely agree.

Not having a policy opens your practice up to more harm and ignoring social media altogether will cut you with both sides of that double-edged sword. Take the time to download the document and if you haven't already, start thinking about your practice's social media policy.

Your employees only want the best for your practice, but one false move on Twitter or an ill-conceived Facebook post is a quick and easy way to cause trouble.