Is radiology ready for primetime social media?

By Michael M. Raskin, MD, JD, MPH, MBA, FACR, University of Miami School of Medicine, Miami, FL and University Hospital and Medical Center, Tamarac, FL
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 Dr. Raskin is an Associate Professor of Radiology at the University of Miami School of Medicine, and a neuroradiologist at the University Hospital and Medical Center, Tamarac, FL. He is also a member of the Applied Radiology Editorial Advisory Board.

‘Social Media’ is the new buzzword in our present culture, but what really is social media? Unfortunately, no single definition is universally accepted, as the term is still evolving. However, the common theme is that social media is an internet-based type of communication. More importantly, it is “user-generated” and describes the exchange of information among people who have something in common. Some common examples of social media websites include Facebook, MySpace, Twitter, Linkedin, and YouTube, along with many others.

Why is social media important?

Healthcare providers are already using social media to disseminate information to patients as a way to market and brand themselves. Hospitals have been using live-streaming video on Twitter with descriptions of complicated surgery and other procedures, as well as using Twitter for question-and-answer sessions. Healthcare providers are also using social networking to communicate and exchange ideas with staff. Social networking affords healthcare providers with unique opportunities, such as providing patient care reminders, updating family members during surgery, connecting patients with similar diseases to each other, and communicating with the media and local community during emergencies. Social media and social networking are not going to go away. It is important that healthcare providers address the challenges raised by social networking. Although there are potential pitfalls, legal and otherwise, social networking will forever be a part of healthcare.

What are the potential pitfalls?

Healthcare providers need to take steps to protect against allegations of wrongdoing with respect to their use of social media. First and foremost, healthcare providers need to protect patient privacy by being HIPAA compliant. They must obtain the authorization of the patient to post any identifiable information on any social media network site. There is no exception under HIPAA that allows a healthcare provider to disclose information merely because the information has already been made public, even if done so by the patient. Providers can also face charges for violation of state criminal, licensure, or professional misconduct laws. Finally, providers can also be in violation of Joint Commission and other accreditation standards that can jeopardize their accreditation or Medicare status.

Another area where healthcare providers have gotten into trouble is by violating the National Labor Relations Act (NLRA) by not allowing “concerted activities” by employees. Concerted activities are actions or plans that are attempted or accomplished by a group. One type of activity protected under the NLRA involves work-related conversations between co-workers. Any social media policy must be narrowly tailored with a legitimate purpose so as not to infringe upon employees’ protected rights to discuss work-related problems, such as wages or working conditions. The NLRA restricts overbroad drafting and enforcing of social media policies.

Do I really need to have a social media policy?

With all the potential problems, not having a social media policy is just as dangerous as having a poor one. An analogous situation would be the potential liability one could face by not having a policy or procedure manual on the communication of urgent or unexpected findings. Any policy on blog posts, for example, should clearly identify the types of posts that are unacceptable and indicate that the host has the right to refuse or remove posts. Participants should be cautioned that they are assuming the risk of posting personally identifiable information about themselves. It should also be emphasized that a doctor-patient relationship is not being established by the use of the site, or blog, and a disclaimer should be posted stating that the provider assumes no responsibility for any harm resulting from any material posted on the site.

Employees are likely already using social media and talking about their employers. Ignoring it won’t make it go away. Without a social media policy, providers open themselves up to the liability of employees misrepresenting them or their practice.

Not quite primetime?

Significant opportunities are afforded by social network sites, although the pitfalls are also significant and not yet fully recognized. Even so, healthcare providers need to be aware of these concerns and how to prevent wrongful use of social networking sites. As mentioned, having no policy on social networking may be just as dangerous as having a poor policy. Finally, it may be undesirable, or even unrealistic, to avoid social networking in your practice

Primetime is just around the corner.

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Is radiology ready for primetime social media?.  Appl Radiol. 

February 01, 2013
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