Medical Board Warns Providers About Social Media, But There Are Opportunities

Health care providers must comply with strict professional regulations that can make participating in social media challenging and complicated. For example, there are HIPAA (Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act) rules, privacy issues and liability concerns. In response, the Rhode Island Board of Medical Licensure and Discipline has published social media guidelines to help the medical professionals it governs navigate information and relationships on social platforms.

These guidelines acknowledge the opportunities social offers to providers, such as sharing knowledge and expertise and networking with their peers. However, they also issue some cautions. Among its recommendations are several situations to avoid, including dispensing medical advice, behaving unprofessionally (including language and tone) and interacting at all with current and former patients, especially via their personal accounts on networks like Facebook. What’s at stake may be more than the risk of public blunder: the Board claims the authority to take disciplinary action against “physicians for unprofessional behavior relating to the inappropriate use of social networking media” (as quoted by Media Post).

Many hospitals and other providers – including physicians and nurses responsible for direct patient care – understand the value of content marketing… especially through social media channels. So what are they to do? As the Rhode Island guidelines suggest, the best idea is to keep professional social media use and personal social media use entirely separate.

One way to accomplish this is for providers to contribute to the content streams (both blogs and social networks) associated with their companies, professional organizations or specialties. Providers’ voices are great assets in these marketing channels, and strong community guidelines can offer a bit of a buffer to concerns about privacy and liability.

So although health care providers must still adhere to warnings like those issued in Rhode Island (and likely to become standard in other states, as well), establishment of a formal social content strategy and professional management of social streams can allow them to take advantage of the perks of social with less risk. Want to see an example? Check out the blog for UCSF’s Department of Radiology and Biomedical Imaging (client).

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