Digital Risk Management — Social Media

Social media is not appropriate for physician-patient communications because they are too informal and lack an atmosphere of professionalism.

Social Media Liability Risks

Social media (YouTube, Twitter, Facebook, text messaging, blogs, etc.) are sometimes used by physicians for physician-to-physician networking. However, these types of media are not appropriate for physician-patient communications because they are too informal and lack an atmosphere of professionalism—making it easy to lapse into casual conversation and inadvertently cross the boundary between personal and professional relationships. The following recommendations are made regarding the use of social media:

  1. Do not discuss individual patients, dispense medical advice, respond to clinical questions from patients, or otherwise practice medicine on these sites. Avoid sensitive subjects (substance abuse, mental health, HIV status, sexually transmitted diseases, etc.). These types of media do not use HIPAA-compliant secure networks, and inadvertently disclosing a patient’s health information will violate HIPAA.
  2. Presume that anything you say or post is in the public domain, and remember that anything typed, text messaged, or e-mailed creates a permanent record that is subject to discovery.
  3. Physician office practices should have written confidentiality and communication policies with employees that clearly forbid online disclosure or discussion of patient health information.
  4. Enable encryption on your mobile device.
  5. Install autolock and remote wiping programs to prevent lost devices from becoming data breaches.
  6. Know your recipient, and double-check the “send” field to prevent sending confidential information to the wrong person.
  7. Avoid identifying patient details in text messages.
  8. Assume that your text can be viewed by anyone in close proximity to you.
  9. Licensed independent practitioners or other practitioners in accordance with professional standards of practice, law and regulation, and policies and procedures may text orders as long as a secure text messaging platform is used and the required components of an order are included (The Joint Commission Standards 2016).

The guidelines suggested here are not rules, do not constitute legal advice, and do not ensure a successful outcome. The ultimate decision regarding the appropriateness of any treatment must be made by each healthcare provider in light of all circumstances prevailing in the individual situation and in accordance with the laws of the jurisdiction in which the care is rendered.

The Doctors Insurance Agency
215 S. Highway 101, Suite 117
Solana Beach, CA 92075
(858) 345-1370
(800) 464-2986