Social Media: Organizational Risks
January 12, 2021 | Health System Risk Management
In a short time, social media has become an embedded part of daily life. People look to social media to get their news, including news about public health and healthcare, and many use it as a decision-making tool when determining where to receive care. It is no longer a question of whether a healthcare organization should be on social media; the question now is whether an organization can thrive without a robust social media presence. (AHA "Hospital Leadership Guide")
Use of social media in healthcare can be a double-edged sword. When used effectively, it is an invaluable tool that healthcare organizations can use to communicate with patients and the community, promote wellness programs and services, market a brand, and encourage donations. Social media engagement also provides a means to disseminate important information to the public quickly, such as during an emergency or disaster, and can serve as an important public messaging tool to counter misinformation related to topics like vaccines and emerging diseases, such as coronavirus-19 disease (COVID-19). Social media additionally provides an alternative mode of communication, which some patients may find less clinical and more accessible than traditional methods. A robust social media presence may increase an individual's trust in an organization. (AHA "Hospital Leadership Guide")
However, misuse of social media can lead to violations of patient privacy, potentially exposing individuals and the organization to sanctions for violations of state laws or the HIPAA privacy rule, as well as potentially damaging the organization's reputation.
With social media embedded as a part of daily life, healthcare organizations must ensure that plans, policies, and guidelines are reviewed and enforced and that they define how engaged the organization will be, who its audience will be, and who will be responsible for managing and monitoring social media outlets. Organizations must also ensure that policies and procedures are in place for addressing risks related to privacy, reputation management, and employment issues, and that staff are educated on these policies. And they must ensure these policies are flexible enough to reflect the ever-changing social media landscape, without being so broad that they could interfere with an individual's rights.
This guidance article focuses on general risks related to social media use on behalf of an organization. For a detailed discussion of policies related to healthcare personnel's use of...