Facebook, Instagram, LinkedIn and Pinterest all have a few things in common. For a doctor, one of those common threads is that these are potential HIPAA violations that can happen easily and unknowingly.

Doctors need to be extremely careful with how they approach social media for their practice. However, simply because it is a potential challenge, doesn’t mean it’s worth avoiding. Social media has an integral place in the patient experience and simply cannot be ignored in today’s world. 

Here are a few tips to help you use social media wisely in regards to protecting privacy:

  1. Have a policy.  Most private practices’ social media is not run by the managing physician themselves. Usually there are office managers, front desk staff or outsourced companies who manage the social posts for them. By establishing policies and rules upfront, you can set clear expectations with whoever is managing the social media. It protects you to have something in place, if only for clarity if there are ever disputes. Policies should focus on what is allowed and prohibited, as well as topics to avoid. For example, if you are a private practice office that doesn’t like corporate dentistry, you would need to spell out to your staff that they should never promote or share content by the major corporate dentistry brands. 
  2. Avoid any personal information about patients.  Just as you wouldn’t tell your patient’s stories to friends at dinner, you also shouldn’t tell just anyone about specific patient information. You want to make sure you avoid any identifiers that would single that person out in any way. This is where outsourcing your social media management actually works to your advantage because most third-party marketing companies will not know patient information.
  3. Don’t mix personal and professional.  Many doctors have their own personal social media accounts, but set strict rules about the types of things you share or talk about.  For example, sharing pictures of your kids or household projects is fine, but posting pictures of yourself at work with patient files right next to you, may not be the smartest move. 
  4. Be helpful and informative.  There are so many different angles you can go with social media that don’t require talking about specific patient cases. You can talk about various treatments, conditions and specialty services. You can provide tips and tricks to taking care of one’s dental or optometric health. You can even share relevant articles from other publications.
  5. Focus on your staff, not your patients.  You can bring a personal touch to your social media by focusing on your team. Patients love seeing pictures of staff members and the doctors working together as a team in the office. Patients also love seeing a little of the personal lives of the staff, and incorporating pictures of you on the weekend with your family might be the most viral thing you post all month. Best of all, it has nothing to do with your patients!
  6. Get Permission.  Sharing of photographs, or any form of PHI without written consent from a patient is considered a HIPAA violation. Create a basic form that patients and parents of minor patients can fill out to give their written permission!

Smart practices know that social media can be a gold mine when used properly!  Smart doctors also know that social media is also a place where one can easily slip up and violate privacy laws if not careful.  Is it worth being on?  Yes.  Is it worth being smart about?  Absolutely!

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