Social Media Opportunities Abound for Physicians

January 24, 2012

However, there are risks to consider, too, warns a research organization.

The healthcare industry, including practices, has been slower than other industries in adopting social media. And it’s easy to see why. For starters, there are a number of privacy concerns - for example, a physician doesn’t want to get sued for tweeting something about a patient - and security concerns, too. Secondly, many physicians aren’t yet sold on the benefits of using social media.

But if the fact that Twitter co-founder Biz Stone was tapped to keynote the upcoming HIMSS conference in Las Vegas is any indication, social media isn’t going anywhere anytime soon. In fact, it is only going to pick up steam over the next few months at physician practices.

What can your practice do to get with the program?

ECRI Institute, a nonprofit organization focused on patient-care research, recently published some suggestions in its risk-analysis report, “Social Media in Healthcare,” so practices can weigh the risks and benefits of social media.

In the report, researchers state that because healthcare organizations are using social media in ways that attempt to meet consumer demands, it’s essential to create and enforce social media plans that are thorough. This means they should define organization engagement, target audience, and outline a plan of action, while taking risks into account.

“Social makes it really easy and enticing to violate patient privacy,” Paul Anderson, director of risk management publications at ECRI, told Physicians Practice.

Anderson pointed out a recent case in Rhode Island in early 2011, involving a hospital physician who described patient experiences in Facebook posts. The physician reportedly provided enough detail that, even without revealing one patient’s name, a third party was able to identify that patient. Not only did the physician get slapped with a $500 fee and mandatory course after presenting her case to the state’s medical board, but her clinical privileges at the hospital were revoked.

Though much of the ECRI report focuses on what hospitals can do, Anderson offered a few tips on how private practices can create a good social media strategy.

“For private practices, you’ve got to do it in a thoughtful way,” said Anderson. “You can’t jump in willy nilly, with one person starting a Facebook account, and another person starting a Twitter account. The big thing the American Medical Association emphasizes is that you’ve got to be able to draw a line between your professional practice and your personal life.”

So if you’re a fan of posting photos of weekend excursions, be sure to create a separate, personal social media account that won’t be seen by your patients.