As a physician, nurse, or other healthcare provider, social media can be a very powerful health resource.
Social media platforms such as Facebook, Instagram, LinkedIn, and Twitter have proved to be an effective means for professional and patient engagement. In fact, over 40% of consumers use social media to help make health-related decisions, and 60% of doctors are using social media to help improve the quality of patient care.
With this access, however, comes a great deal of responsibility to act wisely online. So how can healthcare practitioners benefit from social media while adhering to professional, ethical and HIPAA guidelines? Here are some key best practices for medical professionals to be aware of:
Be Personable but Professional
Doctors, nurses, and other healthcare professionals represent their profession in the way they treat others and in the quality of the information they provide. To avoid any unintended pitfalls, they should continue to operate under the professional principle “First, do no harm.”
Don’t Offer Medical Advice
It’s better to share general educational tips than specific medical advice, and it may be worth explicitly noting this to your followers. Whatever your beliefs may be regarding non-traditional medical practices, it’s important to avoid using social media as a platform to spread the word about topics that may not be in line with current best practices.
Be Careful when Posting about Patients
It’s essential to make sure whatever you’re sharing does not include ANY patient information. This includes patient name, age, gender, diagnosis, room number, etc. If there’s any doubt in your mind whether your post would violate HIPAA, don’t post it.
To protect patient identity, explore a medical condition in generalities or use fictionalized accounts rather than using a specific case. If you need to use an actual case, get the patient’s consent – and make sure the patient descriptions you use are not disrespectful.
Think Twice About Interacting with Patients
Whether in real life or digital life, health professionals have to determine their own professional boundaries and personal comfort level when it comes to engaging with patients outside of the exam room. But in general, it’s a good idea to be selective about who to friend or follow on social media, whether they’re patients or not.
Guard Against Misinformation
All medical professionals using social media have a responsibility to ensure the accuracy of the health-related content they create or share. Be wary of sharing an unreferenced statement or statistic that another user has shared. If you can’t verify it, either don’t share it or add a caveat that the information has not been personally verified. It’s better to share content that includes a link to an authoritative source.
Avoid Conflicts of Interest
If you’re getting paid for mentioning a product or even an idea in a post or website, you must reveal it. In addition, marketing partnerships should not be hidden in a small hyperlink. Additionally, consider the ethical implications of your endorsements and statements – and make sure they’re consistent with current standards of care and evidence-based medicine.
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