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Why has social media policy for healthcare now become a rather indispensable part of the official routine of most healthcare settings? Simple: The sheer prevalence of this medium. The social media such as Facebook, WhatsApp, LinkedIn, YouTube or Instagram offer unlimited opportunities for spreading information about a business or individual to vast sections of the populace. For healthcare settings, it is a tool of enormous use and value because the healthcare unit can propagate information in unimaginable ways through the social media.

However, social media policy for healthcare is a matter of some concern because the information this sector deals with is extremely sensitive and confidential. We all know that the tool that governs Protected Health Information is the Electronic Health Record (EHR). All that hackers need is access to this information. Given the high demand that this data commands in the black market-estimated to be higher than that of even social security and insurance information-it is natural that social media policy for healthcare should be designed to ensure that in the process of giving out information, the healthcare unit should not disclose information that it is meant to safeguard.

Social media policy for healthcare should ensure that HIPAA provisions are not violated

This is important not only from the viewpoint of safeguarding patient information, but also because doing so invites penalties under HIPAA. When private information is disclosed to the wrong sources, it can lead to a serious breach of the provisions of HIPAA, which is concerned with safeguarding Protected Health Information (PHI).

Preventing such a scenario from occurring is the main purpose and reason for which social media policy for healthcare should be enacted. Organizations are aware of the high potential for information leak in this industry. This makes it imperative for them to frame policies that will help the organization achieve this. The point to be borne in mind about social media policy for healthcare is that all policies must be framed with clarity. This is the most important quality for policies, because when they are ambiguous and hazy, they can be interpreted in any way by an employee. This can be used as a very solid excuse to get away from prosecution because the person who impinges data can take shelter under the subjective element of a policy.

How should social media policy for healthcare be framed?

The social media policy for healthcare should be framed keeping in mind the nature of the social media. Which are the most important reasons for which people use the social media and what are their most frequent activities? If the healthcare setting understands this basic information, it will go a long way in helping it frame a proper and safe social media policy for healthcare. One of the most common uses of the social media by people is photos. Most social media users love to upload photos of anything and everything.

When in a hospital, it is common to see patients or their relatives or friends upholding photos of their near and dear ones recuperating at hospitals. They could upload photos for every step along the way, such as taking medications, entering the operation theater, getting nursed, and so on. While these can be lighthearted in nature, they can become dangerous and legally actionable when they end up leaking sensitive, protected information about the patient.

Messaging

Messaging is the soul of the social media. WhatsApp handles literally billions of messages every day from around the globe from its vast user community. Sending harmless messages about the patient’s general health is fine. But information about which medications have been prescribed, their dosage, whether the patient is complying with the treatment regimen or not-these are potentially tendentious bits of information that could land the users in jail if done wrongly.

Interacting

Policy on how to interact with hospital staff should constitute the third part of social media policy for healthcare. Many people have a tendency for befriending hospital staff. This may not be a bad thing in itself, but when it goes beyond mere offline greetings and other gestures of gratitude or friendship and gets carried on the social media, the relationship enters a grey area. This should not be misused for gaining negative motives. Social media policy for healthcare should cover these aspects and should show utmost care in these dealings.

Having said all these, it is most important to keep in mind the fact that social media, by their very nature, offers enormous scope for misuse. The social media policy for healthcare should be the real guide to help employees understand how to deal with sensitive information.

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