Chief Compliance and Ethics Officers Healthcare

Responding to patients on social media

  • 1.  Responding to patients on social media

    Posted 02-10-2019 05:25 PM
    I am going to run this past legal as well, but I wanted to see what others were doing in their facilities. We are having patients reach out to some of our providers and nurses on social media asking for medical advice and/or needing immediate help such as chest pain, etc. We are getting ready to revise our social media policy and are thinking of having a standard message the nurse or provider could send out to to the patient such as "It is strictly prohibited to discuss any aspect of your care on any form of social media. You may speak with our on call provider at XXX-XXXX. If you are experiencing an emergency, please go to the emergency room immediately." However, what is our obligation as a healthcare provider when they are off work and it is potentially an emergency such as the situation of chest pain? Can we provide the above message and have no liability? As a side note, on messenger you can also see when a message is read.

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    Savannah Knuettel CHC
    Compliance Officer
    Galen Medical Group
    Hixson,TN

    The views expressed herein are my own and do not represent those of my employer or clients. They are not meant to constitute legal advice or create an attorney-client relationship.
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    2019 HCCA Compliance Institute


  • 2.  RE: Responding to patients on social media

    Posted 02-11-2019 08:43 AM
    You pose a question that I have received many times throughout my history in health care privacy compliance.  I would recommend 4 distinct actions:

    1. Set in your policy an expectation that any staff member who identifies themselves as working for your organization within their social media accounts to include a profile-level disclaimer stating something similar to what you have in your signature line (your legal department should help draft the specific language).

    2. Set in your policy an expectation that any staff member who posts health-related information to any online forum or message will include a disclaimer statement that includes that the information presented is the personal opinion of the poster and not considered medical or legal advice (your legal department should help draft this as well).  Emphasize in this policy section that posting individually identifiable health information is strictly prohibited and refer back to your applicable privacy policy.

    3. Set in your procedure some standard language for staff to use if a real or prospective patient posts any medical information in an electronic forum or social media message.  The language should include verbiage that states federal and state privacy laws prohibit discussing health information in this forum.  If the poster believes that they may be experiencing a medical emergency to immediately call 911 or present to the nearest emergency department or urgent care center.

    4. Train all staff on the policy/procedure and give examples of appropriate vs. inappropriate postings/responses.  Try to develop the training so that it requires 10 minutes or less to complete.  I also recommend developing flyers that can be emailed, posted in employee areas, and/or handed out at staff meetings.

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    Thomas Branch, CHC
    Spectrum Health
    Grand Rapids, MI

    The postings on this site are my own views and do not represent Spectrum Health's views, positions, strategies or opinions.
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    2019 HCCA Compliance Institute


  • 3.  RE: Responding to patients on social media

    Posted 02-11-2019 09:28 AM
    Savannah - Are your providers friends with patients on some type of social media such they can message? If it is a forum, a note can be put on there that you will not respond to any requests for medical information. If it your company facebook page, a similar message can be used.  Just trying to understand the context.  ​

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    Barbara Barrett
    Chief Compliance Officer
    Reliant Care Management Co
    St Louis,MO
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    2019 HCCA Compliance Institute


  • 4.  RE: Responding to patients on social media

    Posted 02-11-2019 09:35 AM
    Thank you Thomas. Your recommendations are very helpful. Barbara, these are patients that are reaching out to individual staff or providers that have found them via facebook. You can send messages to anyone whether they are a friend on facebook or not. However, we do have staff and Providers that are friends with patients so I want to address both.

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    Savannah Knuettel CHC
    Compliance Officer
    Galen Medical Group
    Hixson,TN

    The views expressed herein are my own and do not represent those of my employer or clients. They are not meant to constitute legal advice or create an attorney-client relationship.
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    2019 HCCA Compliance Institute


  • 5.  RE: Responding to patients on social media

    Posted 02-11-2019 09:46 AM
    You are correct that you have two issues.  An unsolicited message, I would not respond.  Also perhaps put something in NPP or the like that providers do not respond to any communications via personal social media and instead the patients should call, etc (your normal system).  If folks are friends that is trickier - You can try to prohibit but may not completely work.  I would educate on the dangers if the only relationship is patient/provider.  You may also have folks with other relationships - for example, my son broke his growth plate at baseball practice and his coach (one of his best friends' dad) is a hand specialist and cast it the next day. We were already friends on facebook.  Now I would not ask about medical stuff on fb but others could.  In those cases were they are friends, I think providers do need a standard response. I think the key is that your providers understand the risk involved in social media contact.  Good luck.

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    Barbara Barrett
    Chief Compliance Officer
    Reliant Care Management Co
    St Louis,MO
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    2019 HCCA Compliance Institute