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Social Media Tips for Healthcare

"Everybody's doing it" is an age old expression that couldn't be truer when talking about social media. Everyone and their brother has at least one social media account, whether it's Twitter, Facebook, or the newest craze, Foursquare. Now this same expression applies to those we least expected to hop on the bandwagon: healthcare providers.

Patients, instead of seeing their doctor once a year or upon the advent of flu season, are keeping up with their physician online through tweets, blogs and fan pages. Patients are in on the action too, by sharing photos, stories and asking questions. Some of what is shared between patients and their physicians is no longer restricted to the examination room, which is an exciting change for the healthcare industry, but also a cause for concern.

Healthcare providers online raises all sorts of questions: how does social media comply with HIPAA? What about patient privacy? How much information is too much information?

At first, social media may seem too risky a venture to physicians who have little or no experience using them as communication tools. These are not baseless worries. Physicians and patients alike value their privacy. Social media is about interaction, but as we've all seen, the internet is riddled with examples of over-sharing. Over-sharing can get you into trouble. Of course, many of these concerns can be eliminated by exercising common sense.

Common sense is a rule that applies to anyone using social media accounts. If any questions arise about whether or not certain content is appropriate for posting, err on the side of caution. There are other safety nets healthcare providers can use to be sure their posts comply with HIPAA.

Never post patient specific information unless you have done all of the following:

  • 1) Require patients to sign a Use and Access Statement, clarifying that they have agreed to submit the information under the guidelines and restrictions provided by HIPAA.
  • 2) Provide patients with a copy of the hospital/clinic HIPAA policy.
  • 3) Require patients to submit a secure online form where the story and images can be reviewed and accepted by medical staff.

This will protect the provider, its staff, and patients, as well as provide an interesting way to market your services using personal stories.

But it's not just patient content alone that needs to be reviewed and monitored. Medical staff must also understand and follow HIPAA rules. Once a browser is opened, it's easy to forget the basic rules of netiquette. Employees may forget who they are representing when they post online. Healthcare providers who let their staff post to social media sites simply need to provide them with a guideline explaining what is both appropriate and HIPAA approved. Their posts should also be monitored for inappropriate or potentially illegal material.

The purpose of having a social media presence is to communicate, interact and share information. None of these things can be accomplished if patients or anyone else in the healthcare community can't find you. Healthcare accounts should be registered under the name of the provider, not an unrelated name like CatLover24.

Profiles should be personalized. This is where branding can be incorporated using the company logo and colors. A snippet about the provider should be placed in the bio section of Twitter and Facebook.

Healthcare Twitter accounts should not follow or be followed by bots because they only attract other bots. In the beginning, each account should follow around 100 or 200 people and increase as time passes. Most users follow those who follow them. Of course, keep the patient demographic in mind.

It also helps to be engaging. Providers need to ask themselves, what are they offering to patients on Twitter or Facebook? Share new healthcare information relevant to the audience. Talk about a new service that is being provided or upcoming events. Personal images should not be posted.

Lastly, healthcare providers should do everything they can to promote their social media accounts. New and existing patients need to become aware that they can find you online. Providers should tell colleagues and staff members, who may have their own personal accounts. Lastly, allways post a link to your social sites on the main website.