Social Media: Professional Don'ts!

Physicians talking in hallway When we think of patient privacy and keeping patient information and records safe, we tend to think about online computer security, proper use of passwords, secure EMRs, minimizing elevator talk and the like. But, what about physicians and health care providers posting “anonymous” patient pics and info to social media?

Recently, many physicians and health care professionals have been learning the hard way that posting pics and information about patients on social media isn’t just about making sure you don’t violate HIPAA laws –it’s also about not violating medical professionalism and do-no-harm ethics. A recent article provides details on this newest form of misconduct.

Two Examples
A non-treating Emergency Department physician at Northwestern Memorial Hospital recently posted embarrassing photos of a drunk woman to Instagram and Facebook. Both the physician and the hospital are now being sued. In Grand Rapids, MI, an off-duty employee took a picture of a woman’s backside and posted it on Facebook with the gross caption, “I like what I like.” That employee and other employees who “Liked” the photo were fired.

According to a recent survey published in the Journal of the American Medical Association, about 30% of state medical boards have had to address “online violations of patient confidentiality.” A QuantiaMD study found that about 13% of physicians have used public online platforms to discuss cases with colleagues. Even though these cases don’t have an unprofessional or pejorative motivation, and even if names are not used, professional violations can still occur due to possible identifying information being given out.

Thus, as we like to say a lot: 1) When in doubt, don’t and 2) Always err on the side of caution. Don’t post about patients on social media no matter how much you need to vent or how funny the shot is or how attractive the person is (or isn’t). And, if you just want to discuss a case with a colleague, do so in a professional, secure format in a HIPAA-compliant way.

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