Website spotlight: Social media: Patient friend or foe?

Staff Development Weekly: Insight on Evidence-Based Practice in Education, December 23, 2011

By now, HIPAA is well known to the healthcare community. Hospital staff and physicians have long been practicing a strict standard of patient privacy.

HIPAA was put in place for a number of reasons­-to protect patients from extortion, abuse, embarrassment, discrimination, and pain and suffering. But it was enacted just as the Internet was beginning to become the force we now know it to be. Now, more and more hospitals are finding that they need to explicitly tell staff and physicians that HIPAA applies to the World Wide Web as well.

Anne Huben-Kearney, RN, BSN, MPA, CPHQ, CPHRM,likens social media sites like Twitter and Facebook to a virtual hospital elevator, implying that you never know who might step on and be listening. Huben-Kearney is vice president of risk management at ProMutual Group, which focuses on risk identification, management, and litigation in many types of healthcare settings.

Social media provides the opportunity to share information at any time, and it creates a permanent record that cannot be erased. "It has to be clear to staff that they never stop being a nurse, physician, or hospital staff when it comes to patient privacy and confidentiality, even in off-hours," says Huben-Kearney.

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