Risks of Social Media in Healthcare: Establishing Guidelines

In an ever-changing and rapidly evolving world powered by technology, most hospitals currently utilize social media in some capacity to promote services, increase customer engagement or publicize educational information. But what if healthcare staff used personal social media accounts to publish sensitive information related to the facility or official organization profiles were used to provide medical advice?

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Healthcare facilities must adopt a variety of policies, both general and specific, regarding their social media activities, across all platforms, for protection against exposure to litigation. Establishing social networking policies, defining content rules, and tailoring the policies to consider regulatory, legal, and medical risks are ways in which protection can be implemented.

Medical residents’ Instagram activity, while employed at Spectrum Health in Grand Rapids, Michigan in February 2021, demonstrated why social networking policies are so vital for healthcare facilities. Photos were shared through an account dedicated to the OBGYN residency that showed the medical residents posing with a patient’s organs in the operating room, during a procedure. The residents encouraged their Instagram followers to guess the weight of the patient’s organs while hinting that the rules of their game mimicked those of “The Price is Right”.

In the photo, the patient was partially exposed, leaving her identifiable and violating her privacy as a patient at Spectrum Health. Although the personal Instagram account was not sponsored by Spectrum Health, the social media users’ actions took place during work hours and indirectly reflected on the hospital which ultimately exposed it to liability.

Ensuring that social media policies include key components that establish what behaviors are prohibited, consider what type of usage is acceptable during work hours, and regulate job discussions during off-work hours are all important to decrease the likelihood of this type of incident reoccurring.

Need More Resources?

LHA Trust Funds has policy templates and a whitepaper with tips for you to use as a framework that can help establish or refine your organization's social media policy.

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About the Authors

Stacie Jenkins, RN, MSN, CPSO
Vice President of Patient Safety and Risk, LHA Trust Funds

Stacie Jenkins is a registered nurse with a master’s degree in nursing informatics. She has more than 20 years’ experience in healthcare, working in patient care and quality/performance improvement positions. As the Vice President of Patient Safety & Risk at LHA Trust Funds, she works closely with hospital administrators, risk managers and nursing staff to improve patient safety and establish best practices. She conducts on-site assessments and gives presentations designed to help clients address their patient safety risk management challenges.

Caroline Stegeman 150 x 150 px

Caroline Stegeman, RN, BSN, MJ, ONC, CPHRM, CPSO
Director of Patient Safety, LHA Trust Funds

Caroline Stegeman has 28 years of nursing and clinical risk management experience in a variety of healthcare settings. She has extensive experience in the management and handling of patient safety issues/ incidents, clinical and environmental risk assessments, root cause analysis, regulatory and industry best practices (TJC, CMS, DHH), hospital emergency preparedness and disaster management, and quality improvement initiatives.

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