Growing Your Practice on Facebook, Part 5: Patient Confidentiality Considerations

June 27th, 2017 by Search Influence Alumni

In our last blog, you learned how to capture your audience with engaging content and analyze the results. Now that you understand what it takes to connect with your patients, we’ll take a look at common obstacles medical practices face when posting on Facebook.

Social media and the healthcare industry can seem in opposition at times. One is about sharing and transparency, while the other hinges on patient confidentiality and privacy. But the irony is that the medical industry is not immune from the benefits and trends of platforms like Facebook.

Facebook is a wonderful resource for any industry looking to grow their business. Potential clients and patients desire access to the goings-on of a medical facility or hospital, and similar to peeking in on the page of a friend or associate, patients expect to see their doctor’s office online, too. Uploading staff happenings or posting about a new procedure is invaluable to the cause. But what happens when patient confidentiality is violated? In the era of “clicks,” the two opposing parties of health care and social media must become friends. Although there’s a fine line to walk when working within HIPAA rules, here are some helpful tips to consider when using Facebook for your medical office.

Image of doctor using a tablet - Search Influence

Get Written Permission Before Posting

Nothing can replace the power of pictures on your Facebook page. According to a Hubspot survey, Facebook posts with images receive 53% more Likes than those without. Images serve as testimony to what your practice can do and how you can help other patients achieve their desired results. They are also a way for your patients to discuss and identify symptoms that may need a doctor’s immediate attention. However, posting photos without explicit consent from all parties can lead down a very hairy path—even if the image isn’t of someone’s face.

According to Privacy Rule requirements, physicians must obtain a signature from the patient that specifically spells out the what, when, and where of the shared item. Some medical facilities have recently opted to send out a blanket consent statement, but this is not best practice. Be sure the statement includes details such as a full description of your purpose in using the image, an expiration date on the image consent, as well as a note describing the patient’s right to revoke consent. Send a copy of the signed document to the individual and keep one for your records as well. Working this into your protocol prior to posting photos will keep a clear line of communication between your practice and patients, and it will also create a streamlined process for your social media marketing needs.

Avoid Talking About Specific Patients

Posting about patients can be helpful to your practice. You can highlight testimonials, success stories, and interesting procedures that can be used to engage new and current patients alike. However, when posting on Facebook, even if given permission to use a patient’s medical situation, you’ll want to be explicit in not identifying the individual.

Confidentiality and privacy are two sides of the same coin. Confidentiality limits the details of a patient’s health exclusively to the medical team unless given informed consent. Privacy, on the other hand, relates to the patient’s right to be treated with respect and dignity. HIPAA goes even further, stating that information given about a patient in a public forum should not disclose individually identifiable information. This information includes anything that could be used to hone in on a specific person, such as past, present, or future physical or mental health details. Understanding the difference between the two, and how they relate to the language and images used in Facebook posts, will help you and your staff to find that happy medium.

Image of doctor's stethoscope on top of patient's records - Search Influence

Don’t Take Pictures Around Sensitive Materials

Where you take the picture can matter just as much as the picture you take. When capturing images to share with your patients, be aware of any medical records or other confidential materials laying around. With zoom features on devices, potentially threatening information can become more decipherable when viewed from apps on a cell, tablet, or another mobile device. Avoid this mistake by thoroughly surveying the area before snapping a shot around the office. Put away any files or paperwork containing information that is private or for medical office use only. It may also be a good idea to only take more candid photos in certain areas of the facility where sensitive items are least likely to be an issue. Also, be sure to avoid taking pictures that may have a patient in the background. Having a designated spot for photo ops can minimize the chances of mistakenly exposing information that would break patient confidentiality and put your office in a compromising position.

Facebook doesn’t have to be a no man’s land for physicians and medical practices. Healthcare and social media can play on the same team. Building your brand online and strengthening relationships with your patient base is invaluable, especially with Facebook’s almost 2 billion monthly users. Don’t be intimidated by HIPAA; instead, embrace the rules, implement best practices for your staff, and walk the line to marketing and confidentiality success. The exposure you’ll get will be well worth it.

Check back next week for the final installment of our medical industry blog series, which will walk you through one of our case studies and show you how to put everything together!

If you are ready to chat about your digital marketing opportunities today, contact one of our experts.




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