Social media is here, and if your facility isn’t embracing it, you may fall behind your competition. If you are not current with the social media scene, you better start being active now.

Why? Because your patients, their caretakers, and your staff expect it.

Snelling Medical Staffing understands that many facilities are unclear as to how to utilize social networks, so we will be posting a multi-part blog feature that addresses many of the concerns and issues that may arise with social media in medical facilities.

Social Media’s Rise and Your Facility’s Role in Protection

You may have noticed (and participated) in the rise of social media. Social networks are being used daily by millions of users to interact with each other. More and more patients (and their families) are using social media to engage with friends, family…and businesses. Edison Research conducted a study in 2012 that found 33% of users follow a brand or company on Facebook or Twitter.

This means that users may hear about important news or information about a facility, as well as read valuable feedback or reviews about that facility, directly from other patients. The medical community is starting to understand and embrace social media’s role in their industry. Many associations are realizing that social media isn’t just about marketing or PR, rather it is about providing a platform for interaction. The American Health Information Management Association in a 2011 article stated this philosophy succinctly, saying social media allows healthcare organizations to “offer a venue for patients to share their positive experiences and personal stories [that] can send a powerful message to consumers who are determining where to obtain their healthcare services.”

Healthcare facilities understand that they need to be on social media, but oftentimes they are not able to understand that by being active online, they must handle issues that arise. What many facilities neglect to take into account is that social media is fraught with patient privacy concerns, with due concern.

The Los Angeles Times reported in August 2010 about a man who arrived at an area hospital after being beaten. However, “instead of focusing on treating him…. nurses and other hospital staff did the unthinkable: they snapped photos of the dying man and posted them on Facebook.”

Another example occurred s when “five nurses were fired at Tri-City Medical Center in Oceanside after hospital managers discovered they had been discussing patients on Facebook,” reported the Times in the same article. An incident such as this is one of the main concerns that patients have about their privacy.

Such incidences are extremely rare. Still, the danger is there for less “catastrophic” breaches of patient confidentiality. This is why facilities should be proactive in outlining specific guidelines that will deal with social media – both in how it should be utilized both professionally and personally by staff.

While each facility needs to implement a unique social media policy, here are a few guidelines that you should consider including:

  1. Develop a social media policy that outlines the facility’s stance on social media in the workplace, and ramifications of an employee breaking such a policy. It is advised that you have your legal department review the policy before distribution. Clearly define the facility’s stance on:
    1. Appropriate use of social media as it pertains to patient privacy, employer information, and personal use in the workplace.
    2. Who (if anyone other than the designated employees) may access and speak on the facility’s social media sites. This creates accountability and ease of management of information.
    3. What an employee should do if they witness or are privy to a breach in the social media policy. Be sure to include possible consequences an employee may face if they break the policy.
    4. Create a training session that would be mandatory for all new and current employees to attend. This will help all staff understand your social media policies and how they apply to them; helping to avoid confusion in the future.
    5. Institute methods to monitor your presence and interactions online. Not only will this help your facility monitor that your policies are being followed, it will help you keep tabs on how your patients are interacting and using your social media sites.

What do you think? Does your facility use social media as a marketing and engagement tool? Have you ever had to discipline an employee for inappropriate use? Does your facility have a social media policy in place? If so, what would you recommend for other facilities?

Check back with our Snelling Medical Blog in the upcoming weeks to view the rest of the blog series discussing social media. Feel free to send us a message to let us know your thoughts!

NOTE:  A full-color, downloadable PDF is available.