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One of the last things you want as a medical practice is a HIPAA violation. While many have embraced social media as an effective way to market their practice, others avoid it for fear of divulging confidential patient information. Social media should not be feared. If you know what to do and not do, social media provides an excellent outlet for information sharing, relationship building and patient generating. Here are some tips to help make the process less intimidating.

Keep anonymity when it comes to your patients. Social media posts should include information that your fans want to read or see. The content you share should never include patient names or cases you have seen. If you do want to mention a patient, as in a testimonial or case study, be sure to have written authorization before posting.

Keep patient responses general. This is one of the hardest things for practices to do, especially when patients start writing on their page. It is normal to want to thank them for their comments. You can’t, however, acknowledge that you have ever seen them as a patient. Patients can talk about themselves and the treatment they have had at your facility, but you cannot validate their comments. The best advice is to be warm but general in any responses made to a patient. Never acknowledge the patient as a patient. Just thank them for their post and move on. If you need to get specific, ask them to contact the office and handle it privately.

Do not give medical advice online. If you allow it, your fan page can become a place where medical questions are asked. While you want to invite communication, you must avoid providing medical advice online. When someone asks a medical question, you should reply by inviting them to call to schedule an appointment. What you can do, however, is publish medical related articles written by you on topics that are important to your audience. By all means, use social media for this purpose.

Create and post a social media policy and procedures guide. Your social media policies and procedures are the foundation to your social media endeavors. The policies serve as a disclaimer letting patients know that your page is public and can be seen by anyone and to post with caution.

Once it is online, it can be found. If you accidentally post something and quickly delete it, trust that someone has seen it. Remember that when you post something it shows up automatically. If a HIPAA violation ever comes into question, the information posted could be found and used against you. The Internet is never private.

Do not post pictures of patients online without their written permission. Many medical specialties require patient photographs to serve as testimony to the skills of the medical provider. Plastic surgeons, for example, often have before and after images on their website. Pictures of patients should never be placed on social media sites, or your website without written permission from the patient.

Keep your page professional. The underlying tone of your page should always be professional. Your business page should be separate from your personal one. If you are a doctor and your business name is your actual name (ie: John Smith, MD), create a business page for the practice and a personal page for you and differentiate between the two in what you post.

Your social media pages should be handled the same way you would handle a patient interaction in the office. Keeping aware that the potential amount of people who can “hear” what you say online is infinite. Social media provides an excellent foundation for information sharing and relationship building. Don’t let anxiety about what could happen prevent you from such an important part of business in this day and age. If you would like assistance on building a social media strategy or implementing one, give us a call at (813) 957-4624 or visit us online.