22 Health Law. 28 (2009-2010)
Crafting an Effective Social Media Policy for Healthcare Employees

handle is hein.journals/healaw22 and id is 272 raw text is: CRAFTING AN EFFECTIVE SOCIAL MEDIA POLICY
FOR HEALTHCARE EMPLOYEES

David Gevertz, Esq.
Gina Greenwood, Esq.
Baker Donelson Bearman, Caldwell &
Berkowitz, PC
Atlanta, GA
The numbers are staggering:
According to a recent report published
by the Pew Internet & American Life
Project, as of 2008, 35 percent of
adults use social networking sites (such
as MySpace and Facebook) - up from
only eight percent in 2005.' Some
healthcare providers speculate that as
many as 50 percent of their employees
utilize some form of social media.
For employers, these numbers
suggest that a large portion of their
current workforce is actively partici-
pating in online social networking
communities at work and at home.
This means that if employers do not
develop social media policies and
train employees on the appropriate
use of social networking and blogging,
employers leave themselves exposed
to abuse, public embarrassment and
potential liability.
Special considerations must be
taken into account for healthcare pro-
vider employers, for which the social
networking revolution offers many
advantages, but also significant risks.
This article explains the term
social media and discusses how to
craft a workable social networking
policy that minimizes the risks of inap-
propriate employee online networking,
while still allowing healthcare organiza-
tions to make the best use of new
Internet technologies to help their
patients and to uphold the mission of
their organizations.
What Exactly is
Social Media?
Social media is information that is
disseminated through highly accessible
publishing techniques that transform
28

people from content consumers into
content producers.' In short, for the
average user, social media has con-
verted the Internet from a read-only
encyclopedia into an interactive,
second-by-second communication
forum with the world as the audience.
Examples of social media applica-
tions include Facebook (with its 400
million users), MySpace, Linkedln,
Twitter, YouTube, blogs and email.
In addition to Internet media applica-
tions, the use of cellular phones for
texting, PDA use, and cellular-based
cameras are often referred to as forms
of social media.
The Benefits of Social
Networking for
Healthcare Providers
Social networking has a place and
usefulness in assisting hospitals and other
healthcare providers in building online
communities for their employees/staff,
patients and programs. Patients - often
with the assistance of those providers -
are building increasingly sophisticated
online support groups that enable them
to share information about treatments,
discuss their experiences, and assist each
other in coping with illness.3 Clinicians
also participate in professional group
blogs online to share treatments and
experiences.4 The same technologies
make it possible for advocacy groups,
government agencies, and healthcare
providers to update consumers on rele-
vant health news, and to deliver
personalized healthcare-related mes-
sages, reminders and alerts to email
accounts, mobile phones and other
wireless devices.
Given the numerous positive ways
in which social networking sites can
be used by healthcare providers,
employers must ask, Do blanket pro-
hibitions serve the best interests of the
healthcare providers or the patients

The Health Lawyer

they serve? Even if prohibited, can
employers really control the use of
social media?
According to at least one hospital
president, Paul Levy, president and
chief executive officer of Beth Israel
Deaconess Medical Center in Boston,
blocking employee access to social
networking sites is a bad idea.' He
argues that such bans will impede the
sharing of ideas and information prac-
tices that are vital to modem health
care organizations' day-to-day opera-
tions and long-term planning and
teaching missions. 6
Pandemic scares have also rein-
forced the need for hospitals to be
able to communicate internally with
staff and externally with communities
to ensure the safety of both. Social
media can be an inexpensive way to
disseminate necessary information
quickly.7
Further, social networking for
some hospitals has proven to be an
excellent marketing tool for new
cancer centers, health fairs or other
services. Employees who are taught
the appropriate use of information
can be incredible brand ambassadors
for health systems.8
The Risks of Social
Networking in the Age
of HIPAA Privacy and
Security Rules
On the flipside, allowing social
networking without proper training
and restriction can lead to breaches of
privacy in an era in which penalties
for such violations are increasingly
stringent. The Health Insurance Por-
tability and Accountability Act of
1996 (HIPAA)9 and its correspond-
ing Privacy and Security Rules'
require that individually-identifiable
patient health information be reason-
ably safeguarded pursuant to the
Volume 22, Number 6, August 2010

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