In this preview of an article from Issue XXV, Volume 3 of the PLUS Journal (March 2012) authors  Jonathan D Rubin and Sandra L Brown look at the impact social media can have on healthcare, specifically in long term care facilities.

Also, don’t miss the June 5, 2012 PLUS Webinar “HIPAA for Risk Managers: Meet the New HIPAA.”

From the article:

In the context of long term care organizations, Facebook or MySpace pages of the organization itself or the organization’s staff members can be used to impeach witnesses at trial.  Accordingly, long term care organizations should take a cue from major hospitals and medical providers and create clear guidelines for staff members’ use of social media.
Organizations cannot limit or restrict staff members’ personal use of social media.  Guidelines should stress that all staff members, residents and resident families are personally and legally responsible for the content of the commentary they post and can be held liable for unlawful activities, including defamatory, libelous, obscene or discriminatory statements or posting material that violates intellectual property laws or improperly discloses confidential information.  Staff members should be reminded that residents, residents’ families, competitors and colleagues may have access to the online content they post.  As such, information originally intended just for a small group can be forwarded on to a much wider audience.  Such warnings would have been useful at the Mount Royal Towers, an Alabama nursing home where a staff member performed a lap dance on a 97 year old Alzheimer’s patient.  The incident was recorded and posted on Youtube without the knowledge or consent of the resident or his family.  Members of the resident’s family are now suing the facility, alleging invasion of privacy, negligence, wantonness, and negligent hiring of personnel. [12]

Clearly the above incident represents egregious conduct evincing poor judgment on all levels.  It is, hopefully, an isolated incident, and as such, guidelines should specify that staff members should not make unauthorized disclosures regarding their employer or residents on personal or public social media sites.  These disclosures include information regarding residents, residents’ personal information (including medical conditions or treatment), residents’ families, and other personal information about other individuals without their consent.  Staff members should not post photos, videos or other media on any social media site without the consent of all those exhibits in the media.  Moreover, staff members should not tag, identify, or comment on anyone in any social media without the individual’s consent.

Staff members should also be strongly discouraged from “friending” residents or resident family members.  Facebook friends gain access to one another’s private and social lives, including access to the other’s interests, personal photographs, political/religious views and relationship status.  “Friending” residents and their families gives access to personal information about the staff member, which would otherwise not be shared with these individuals.  Accordingly, staff members should be encouraged to keep their social media sites for personal use and to not communicate with residents and resident families via social media.

Staff members should be instructed that when posting on external social media sites or other public forums, they must make clear that the views expressed are their own personal views, and not that of the medical facility.  An example of such a disclosure is “I am an employee of [enter organization name].  Statements or opinions expressed on this site are my own and do not necessarily represent those of [enter organization name]”.

Moreover, staff members should not post on company public pages private information about residents.  Social media sites should be closely monitored by the long term organization and inappropriate postings or information should be promptly deleted.  This is important to ensure the best face of the organization is presented for public viewing as many organization web and social media pages are open to the public and can be easily accessed by opposing parties during litigation. Damaging posts on social media sites can potentially undermine the ability to successfully defend these matters.

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