In today’s society, where we are constantly updating our Facebook status and Twitter accounts to tell online followers where we are and what we’re doing, hospitals and other health care organizations have begun to address the constant over-sharing with a set of guidelines.  The goal: to help physicians and others in the industry stay within the boundaries of appropriate social media use.

These organizations are undoubtedly considering the case of Alexandra Thran who was fired in 2011 from her position at Westerly Hospital in Rhode Island (and reprimanded by the state medical board) for posting information online about a trauma patient. Thran did not post the patient’s name, but included enough information so that others in the community could identify said patient.

Bradley H. Crotty, a physician at Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center who has studied the role of social media in health care, recommends that physicians set up separate social media accounts for personal and professional use. He further suggests keeping the personal account set to private and to use the professional one as an extension of the practice; a work tool.

Crotty also recommends health care professionals avoid connecting with patients through social media.

Boston Children’s Hospital this year published its first social media policy– which explicitly prohibits disclosing patient or employee information.

However, not all hospitals in the area are catching on. According to an article in the Boston Globe, the spokeswoman for Boston Medical Center said in regards to the hospital’s lack of a social media policy, “It just doesn’t seem to have been an issue yet.”

We strongly recommend that every hospital develop a set of social media guidelines to protect – not only the patients’ privacy – but doctors and other caregivers from lawsuits.

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