To Post or Not to Post? How to Develop Best Practices for Social Media Usage

Twitter, Instagram, Snapchat, WhatsApp, TikTok, and the list goes on…. Social media has reshaped every aspect of the workplace and has blurred the line between private and public communications. Hospital administrators, physicians, and healthcare professionals face continuing challenges with how to best integrate these platforms into their business model while guarding against the difficulties that can arise with improper use.

Social Media in Healthcare

Therefore, strong social media usage guidelines, which outline what type of content is acceptable for posting and what is not, are important pieces of your healthcare organization’s social media policy.

LHA Trust Funds risk experts and partners have curated a list of content pieces that are social media friendly, breaking down what should not be posted, and giving you resources to utilize when developing or restricting your organization’s social media policy.

To Post…

There are clear advantages to posting positive interactions between providers and patients, including successes with difficult treatments, technological advances, or patient satisfaction stories. These content pieces are great digital marketing tools. They can also help improve and maintain effective communication and contribute to the sense of community among patients, staff members, providers, and personnel.

Consider these examples of safe content when developing a social media usage policy for your organization:

  • New treatment services being offered
  • Equipment or technology spotlights
  • General healthcare education

Not to Post…

Risks, potential liabilities, and unforeseen problems accompany any innovation in technology that is intended to serve as a solution to something. Problems arise when staff members or other people affiliated with the organization misuse the digital space by sharing posts that do not align with the organization’s mission, vision, core values, or best practices.

Be sure to include a list of content types that are not acceptable to post in the social media usage policy such as:

  • Do not post patient photos, stories, or medical information without written consent.
  • Do not post photos or videos taken inside the healthcare facility in which a patient or PHI is visible.
  • Do not post gossip or co-worker complaints about patients.

Some healthcare professionals share their experiences on “private” forums outside the more popular social media platforms. Unfortunately, comments shared on a public social media website, whether through a private Facebook group or Reddit thread, can be accessed and shared more publicly under many circumstances. Providers should remember that the communications that occur with patients and about patients remain subject to HIPAA requirements for maintaining the confidentiality of a patient’s Protected Health Information (“PHI”). These rules don’t disappear simply because a provider elects to post a message or comment on Instagram or engage in “offline” text communications with other providers or patients.

it is a good rule of thumb that if a provider would prefer not to have their patient read it, see it, or hear about it, the post should stay off any type of public platform or “private” forum.

Along those same lines, patients have been known to post constantly about their dissatisfaction with an encounter. So, it is also beneficial to include a guide for addressing online complaints.

Utilize These Helpful Resources

Establishing social networking policies, defining content rules, and tailoring policies to consider regulatory, legal, and medical risks are ways in which an organization can protect itself. It is also important for healthcare organizations to develop policies that specifically address the engagement of complaints via social media platforms to guide staff members in navigating the digital landscape on the organization’s behalf.

Handling complaints on social media platforms take particular care and should be handled by those who are assigned the responsibility of monitoring and responding on behalf of the organization. General staff should be aware of and sign an acknowledgment of the organization’s social media posting guidelines.

The LHA Trust Funds has developed a white paper for members that address social media in healthcare. This whitepaper outlines legal cases involving social media and provides a guide to social media policies and the education of staff.

Think Consequences, Not Comments

In today’s society, we have become accustomed to the immediate gratification associated with posting thoughts or comments in digital forums. In some cases, we put a little more thought into posting a complaint or negative comment than we do into posting about our weekend plans or dinner. But comments, pictures, and personal stories on most platforms are permanent. Staff must realize that they are the face of the organization not only when they are working but also in their personal circles. Care should be taken even when posting on personal social media profiles. The easiest advice to give anyone about posting a comment or a complaint is to take a breath before hitting enter. Think consequences, not comments.

Need More Resources?

Access our other blog posts on how to navigate social media in healthcare:

About the Author

Stacie Jenkins 150

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.

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