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No time like the present to create a health care social media policy

Last week’s East Coast earthquake proved the power of social media to report disasters, as millions took to Twitter and Facebook to report that they felt the earth move under their feet. Hurricane Irene also highlighted the importance of social media and disaster preparedness. Federal organizations such as FEMA and the American Red Cross used Twitter to provide safety tips, while a bevy of state and regional agencies provided transportation updates, shelter information and weather reports.

Social media, then, is here to stay. All the more reason for providers to draft and implement a health care social media policy.

Admittedly, disaster preparedness isn’t the reason for creating a health care social policy. (After all, if someone manages to Tweet “OMG #hurricaneirene shut off lights time 2 raid the pharmacy LOL” from your official hospital account, social media is the least of your concerns.)

The real reason is the cost of getting health care social media wrong. It’s not just patient data ending up on Facebook, either. Yes, social media’s security concerns are many, varied and — since HIPAA was passed in the veritable dark ages of 1996 — largely uncovered by federal or state statute.

However, it’s one thing to create a Twitter, Facebook, Flickr or YouTube account and another thing entirely to use them all effectively. Engaging with a vast audience across multiple media is difficult enough without wedging that activity into a busy workday.

Enter the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and the Department of Veterans Affairs. In the last year, both have released extensive planning documents for those creating a health care social media policy. In addition to covering security and what users can and cannot say, the documents address comment policies, provide tips for recording podcasts and shooting videos, and suggest which positions within an organization should be responsible for which social media tasks.

Crafting a health care social media policy is almost as tough as using social media. Following the example of those with experience — as CMIO points out, the VA has more than 100 Facebook pages and more than 50 Twitter accounts — will expedite the process, leaving health care organizations ready to provide critical information the next time disaster strikes.

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