You can use social media and stay out of trouble on HIPAA—just be careful not to reveal too much patient information. Just because a patient posts about her condition publicly, you do not have license to respond publicly. Even if you were to post a comment about a rough day in the clinic, or losing a patient in the emergency room, with no patient identifiers, patient identities can be triangulated thanks to the vast amount of information online—and the total volume of information seems to double daily. Healthcare professionals have been sanctioned for such posts.
Physician bloggers can steer clear of HIPAA issues by only writing posts about composite patients, or patients with numerous key details changed, where a story illustrates a point without putting patient privacy at risk.
State laws and federal laws other than HIPAA, enforced by an alphabet soup of agencies, create additional minefields. With all of these potential problems, remember that reaching out to patients, families, referral sources, and the general public through social media is an incredibly powerful act. As long as you bear in mind just how powerful it is, you can do so responsibly.
For more great tips, tools, and tricks to making the most of social media in your practice, download 26 Social Media Tips for Your Medical Practice.
About David Harlow
David Harlow is a seasoned health care attorney and consultant recognized as an accomplished, innovative and resourceful thought leader in health care law, strategy and policy. His experience in both the public and private sectors over the past twenty-five years affords him a unique perspective on legal, policy and business issues facing the health care community.