18 Apr 2016 Digital

The Ethics of Social Media: 4 Pitfalls for Healthcare Marketers

Ryan Eisenacher
Ryan Eisenacher
[Former] Content Marketing Manager

On Saturday, I had the utmost pleasure of presenting at the ASAM Annual Conference with my dear friend and colleague, Ruchi Sanghani. Given Ruchi’s background — prior to joining RB, she worked at the Cleveland Clinic conducting clinical research and investigating physician-pharma relationships’ compliance to ACA guidelines — and the fact that I’m responsible for leading our company’s social media and content marketing strategy, it just made sense that we’d team up to talk about ethical social networking in the addiction treatment space.
When used correctly, social media is an extremely powerful tool, especially for healthcare marketers. It grants you the opportunity to share information, increase brand awareness, and cultivate a loyal community. However, staying in compliance while engaging online can get rather tricky, and fast.
During our presentation, we focused on the etiquette of connecting with alumni on social media. Before you send that post or tweet out into the universe, be aware of these four major ethical social media don’ts:
1. Acknowledge a physician-patient relationship
When engaging online, one of the biggest pitfalls that treatment providers need to be cautious of is acknowledging that an individual is or was their patient. For example, if someone writes on your business’ Facebook wall, thanking your staff for their care and support while they were receiving treatment at your facility, you would be in violation of HIPAA if you were to respond to their comment with kind words saying “Thanks so much, so great to hear positive feedback from our alumni!” — yep, this seemingly harmless exchange confirms an existing relationship. In cases like this, it’s best to be gracious and accept the compliment without acknowledging that the commenter ever attended your center.
2. Continue a sensitive conversation publicly
Social media provides an excellent way to create a safe space for your alumni to discuss issues and stories surrounding their recovery to foster support and hope. Sometimes, people may share a little too much, and share really sensitive or private information on your facility’s networking page. When this happens, it’s best to respect that individual’s privacy and move the conversation to a one-on-one setting, whether that’s through direct messages, a phone call, or in-person discussion.
3. Provide specific medical advice
If a community member were to share a set of symptoms with you online, it would be highly negligent to provide medical advice without a proper examination. Not to mention, if another community member were to see this information and self-diagnose — supposing they were experiencing similar symptoms — you could potentially be at risk of malpractice. The safest course of action would be to have him or her call you to schedule an appointment.
4. Risk it
It’s as simple as this: think before you post or tweet. If you wouldn’t say it aloud in an elevator, don’t post it online. Social media adds more layers of complexity to HIPAA, therefore, it’s best to err on the side of caution.
One of the best ways to ensure compliance: a social media policy. By creating sound procedures and guidelines, you’ll be able to eliminate the guesswork of what is and isn’t appropriate when engaging with alumni online. Don’t know where to start? Tweet me (@ImAGirl_YouKnow) for more info.
What social media policies do you have in place at your company? Share them with us in the comments below.

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