Social Media: Can It Be Beneficial For Your Practice?

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Author(s): 
Brian McCurdy, Senior Editor

   Dr. Hyer stresses the importance of keeping social networking posts professional and being conscious of what one is posting. He emphasizes that posting operative pictures is dangerous and one should keep in mind HIPAA rules. Doctors should not post anything personal about their patients, concurs Jackson, or anything that could identify a patient (without a legal release from the patient to do so).

   Likewise, Dr. Bell cautions that doctors and staff should avoid posting medical information that is relevant to a patient’s case, warning that patients or the public may gain access to confidential medical information. He cites an example of a Charcot group on Facebook where people often ask for medical information or referrals.

   While this can be a great resource, there is also inherent liability to any provider who offers any recommendations or even opinions, cautions Dr. Bell.

   In addition, Dr. Bell suggests not posting personal photos, personal or family info, or political and religious views. “Nothing good can come from such information and you never know who is ‘creeping’ or seeking such personal information and most importantly, how it may potentially be used against you,” says Dr. Bell.

   Jackson also emphasizes the avoidance of topics like politics, religion or anything that might take the message away from helping people with foot and ankle problems. While it is fine to comment on pop culture or news events, Jackson says one should not take a controversial position. He notes one should relate posts back to the worries and concerns that people have with their lower extremities.

   “(People should) absolutely (avoid) comments that are not dignified and related in some way to the health of people and their feet and ankles,” emphasizes Jackson.

   Jackson advises only posting things that you would not mind seeing on the front page of the local newspaper “where you know your mother can read it.”

   “Doctors should remember that these posts — even in the social networking sites — will be forever tied to them,” says Dr. Hyer. “If you were a patient, would you want to read a ton of posts about how many times a month (the doctor is) out partying?”

   Jackson also cautions against a cardinal online sin: Being boring.

   “People don’t read boring things,” he notes. “So be short, interesting and have great, catchy subject lines. Get their attention and talk quickly about how to solve the worries and concerns they have with their feet and ankles.”

What Security Measures Should The Practice Have?

For the last few years, Dr. Hyer’s practice has had a strict social networking policy.

   “It is important that the reputation of the doctors and practice be strenuously protected and that all posts by employees in regard to the practice have this in mind,” he says.

   Generally, he advises vetting staff posts to ensure they are following policies. He compares this vetting to statements to the press from larger companies, in which there is oversight to protect the company’s image.

   Dr. Bell advises a policy of discretion for staff, recommending against staff mentioning who they work for on a social networking site.

   “The credibility of an organization can be damaged by the lack of judgment of an individual who may not think of all the possible ways a seemingly innocent comment, photo or other information may be interpreted by others,” he notes.

   Lorenz notes that having personal social networking accounts gives staff some insulation personally while the public accounts such as the Facebook fan page and Twitter are right out there in public. The staff at Dr. DeHeer’s practice make every effort to keep their private pages private and Lorenz says they get requests for contact with the practice on Facebook friend lists. “We have a professional responsibility to avoid 'spilling our guts' and making fools of ourselves,” she notes.

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