Blogging, Linked-in, Facebook? Oh my!

I’m finally able to define social media–

“Social media is the process of people using online tools and platforms to share content and information through conversation and communication.”

Sounds like a perfect vehicle for healthcare organizations!

Our education and healthcare clients are motivated to use social media for a variety of purposes.  Some use Facebook for marketing while others use Linked in to recruit talent. Others use tools to promote fundraising events; some use it to recruit new students, or participants for clinical trials.   Most healthcare organizations have recruited guest bloggers to share a point of view and generate outside responses.   One of our clients has built a mobile ‘app’ that notifies patients when it’s time to come in for various medical tests and procedures.

However, the various social media strategies do have a downside.  Negative comments posted to your site can have long-lasting ramifications. The lack of face-to-face nuance in on-line postings can lead to misinterpretation and a blurring of traditional patient-provider boundaries. And the ever-changing security settings on Facebook require almost constant scrutiny to ensure that your organization is reaching only its intended audience!

Consider the following:

Tom, a surgical resident, started a blog about his experiences working at a metropolitan hospital.  He kept his identity anonymous and said that his writing was “fictional or based on a composite of multiple persons and life events.”  The blog became very popular and the resident was known for his funny, witty, and sometimes caustic writing style, especially when discussing hospital bureaucracy and colleagues that annoyed him.  He called one colleague a “moron” and sarcastically complained about a staff member taking a break when a complicated procedure was underway.  He also gave the blog a teaching angle and posted CT scans and patient photos with different conditions for medical students to identify and comment on.

When approached by his senior resident to “tone things down,” Tom claims that such a warning violates his freedom of speech.

This could be a huge headache for a hospital administrator, unless s/he had a social media policy in place.  I can’t stress this enough. At a minimum, your policy should reinforce that employees must adhere to legal requirements, including those that apply to patient confidentiality and privacy.  You probably also want to include provisions for deleting negative postings, instituting an editorial process, or having trained moderators in place to guide discussions.

If you want a template to create your own social media policy, try this one from Kaiser Permanente.

Lucky for Tom’s hospital, there was a social media policy in place that explicitly prohibited employees from posting pictures without patients’ written permission and from publicly maligning others within the hospital.

Anyone willing to share how your organization is using social media, and how you created your social media policy?

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