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How to avoid legal issues in social media

Tucked near the end of many great marketing and PR sessions at the Health Care Social Media Summit at the Mayo Clinic last month was this discussion: How to Avoid Legal Issues in Social Media with David Harlow of The Harlow Group and Dan Goldman  and Randy Schwartz from Mayo Clinic.

OK, it might not have sounded as interesting as some of the other sessions. But the trio presented a  thorough and easy-to-understand 60 minutes of helpful info.

They first assured us that you can use social media effectively and stay on the right side of the law. In fact, one  in five institutions are using social media.

New rules are nudging the health care industry to get more social. Accountable Care Organizations (ACOs), a key component of the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act,  center on patient engagement. Healthcare organizations must be where people live.  They must move existing norms into the online environment. (AMA Policy, Nov. 15, 2010, does this.)  However, the open-book ethic of social media runs up against privacy concerns of healthcare, so the speakers said to adopt a risk management mindset to understand risk and avoid liability. They noted that a patient can release her or his own health info online under HIPAA, but you can’t release someone else’s without permission.

Here are some notes culled from my Twitter stream:

Harlow: You can limit liability by clearly defining roles and responsibilities in social media policies and procedures. Good to scrub your Facebook page and take down inappropriate content every day. However much you may want to talk about individual cases, be super careful even if think have de-identified. Important for healthcare providers to curate to provide good content for patients.

Schwartz: Leadership buy-in important. Share successes and failures. Address IT and Security concerns. Share your guidelines — staff meetings, manager/supervisor meetings, department meetings, newsletters, brown bags… Discuss recurring issues, other guidelines. Make adjustments. Example: Not want providers friending patients. At Mayo, updated policy last week. First was two years ago. Involve HR, Legal, Social Media, Public Affairs

Goldman: There are some risks here, but you can manage those risks. There is risk in all you do. Challenges of social media: reach, blurring of professional/personal lives. Another challenge of social media — a new generation of lifecasters. Expectation of sharing all life details, work. Ethical challenges — Do you really want to be friending your patients? Supervisor? Employees? Control challenges — You may have to tolerate some things you don’t like, especially challenging with HIPAA. Prohibit employees from speaking anonymously or pseudonymously about where they work (FTC endorsement/testimonial), NLRB — Employees have a right to post about working conditions or wages to, or on behalf of, co-workers. Identify who can speak on behalf of your company. Have social media policy training part of new employee orientation, Social media policy best practices — No one-size-fits all. Is a reflection of corporate culture as law.

Hope you found this helpful. I did. Feel free to share any thoughts, or additions.

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