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ECRI Institute offers health care social media tips

It is trending whether you like it or not — health care social media has gained much traction over the last five years. So much so, ECRI Institute — a nonprofit research organization aimed at improving patient care based in Plymouth Meeting, Pa. — recently released “Social Media in Healthcare,” a free online report of recommendations to “maximize opportunities and reduce risk” for organizations using social media.

The report suggests that adopters of social media should be careful of risks, while those who have yet to jump on might realize its upside. The report addresses three key questions to help organizations enter the health care social media market: How engaged an organization will be; who its audience will be; and who will manage social media collectively help to meet consumer demands.

“Passive monitoring,” such as creating profiles on different social media outlets to reach populations, is a good place for organizations to start, according to ECRI. Users can then gauge how deep they want to get into different social platforms depending on feedback, comments and mentions. From there, an entity may decide to share success stories, which can help connect patients, former patients and the general public.

Defining an audience will dictate which social tools to use, according to the report. The audience could be a balance between internal and external people, too. For example, internal use could range from reporting weather delays to providing details about disaster recovery planning and response. External cases could revolve around the engagement of folks on general health news and community outreach opportunities.

In order to mitigate risks, there are a few steps organizations can take. One is to ensure that authorized users are in an organization’s social media policy. Staff should not be guessing whether they are able to participate in social media. There must be a staff member or team who is responsible for posting content, monitoring usage and looking for privacy breaches.

Entities should also have privacy policies in place that address pictures of patients, staff and visitors, ECRI stated. The need for these policies is highlighted by the individual who posted a picture of someone’s medical record to his Facebook page. A similar incident occurred at a Wisconsin hospital, where two nurses each took a picture of a patient’s x-ray and one posted it to her Facebook page, according to the report.

Health care social media does not only concern an organization’s current list of employees. The report noted that people who used to work in some capacity can pose risks. HIPAA privacy rules do not cover former employees since its focus is on “workforce” and “staff.”  Penalties can be handed down if it can be shown that an organization failed to adequately train staff regarding HIPAA obligations. Risk managers are urged to keep a look out for former employees who talk about former patients.

Even with its benefits and subsequent risks, social media has arrived on the scene and is not going anywhere. “I won’t tell you that you have to join Facebook or set up a Twitter account, but your patients and staff are using these tools,” said Paul Anderson, ECRI Institute director of risk management publications in a statement. “Healthcare managers would be shortsighted not to consider both the risks and benefits that social media presents.”

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