Why your office needs a social media policy

Why your office needs a social media policy

If you don’t have a social media policy for your practice, it’s likely that you’ve had an incident or two (or more) occur that made you wish you did have one. Perhaps it was when one of your back office assistants was so busy texting that she left a patient lingering in an exam room for half an hour. Or maybe it was the morning one of your providers became so absorbed in his Facebook feed that he fell behind and threw the schedule off for the entire day. Or possibly it was when a patient called to complain that she’d read all about her recent office visit on an internet forum, the information having been posted by one of your employees.

There are at least three good reasons to implement and follow a social media policy. First and foremost, you must ensure patient privacy and confidentiality. Second, a solid policy can help protect the reputation of your practice. And, third, given the fact that 60% of Americans now have smart phones (and the temptation to stare at them seems to border on the addictive), you need a social media policy to make sure that productivity stays high.

Naturally, your policy should be tailored to your specific practice, but here are some elements to consider including:

  • Make it crystal clear that anyone who posts information about a patient – no matter how benign or obscure it may seem – on any social media forum (or in any other manner for that matter) will be subject to immediate dismissal. You cannot be too careful when it comes to HIPAA compliance and you certainly don’t want to risk having a patient file a complaint with the medical board or bringing forth a lawsuit for breach of privacy.
  • Employees will post comments on their Facebook and other social media accounts about their experiences in the workplace. Our jobs are a big part of our lives and it’s human nature to talk about work. Knowing this, use your policy to remind staff members about the importance of using discretion when communicating via social media. This might include remembering to be responsible and respectful, not posting information about or photos of colleagues without their permission, being aware that once something is in cyberspace it’s public and pretty much permanent, and to generally use good judgment when engaging on social media.
  • State whom within the practice is authorized to send e-mail on behalf of the practice, update the practice blog, change the website, post to practice Facebook and Twitter accounts, and what the scope of the public information shared on these platforms will be.
  • Lay out what is and is not acceptable in terms of using practice computers for personal business. You may decide to allow employees to check their personal e-mail accounts or take a peek at their Facebook page during lunch hours, or you may set a cut and dried “no personal use, period” policy. If you go with the former, make sure that employees know not to open or download files that could put your office system at risk for being infected with a cyber-virus.
  • While not strictly related to social media, you’ll probably want to include a section in your policy about what is considered acceptable use of personal smart phones, tablets, and laptop computers while on duty.

How we’re using the internet is a fast-moving target, so if you have a social media policy in place currently, be sure to review and update it regularly. If you don’t have a policy, set aside time to create one. It could save you a few headaches down the road.

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