Avoid social networking pitfalls for physicians

More doctors are using social media than ever, and that’s a good thing.

One thing to be careful of, however, is how easy it is to share confidential patient information.

That issue is explored in a recent article from Massachusetts Medical Law Report, where I, along with others like Healthblawg’s David Harlow and Sermo’s Daniel Palestrant, are quoted in the piece.

Although it seems like common sense not to reveal patient information, I make a point that with the status updates on Twitter and Facebook, slipping up and doing so is quite easy:

The information a physician shares “needs to be generic enough that nobody can identify a patient in the course of reading a post,” says David Harlow, a Newton lawyer and health care consultant who writes the blog HealthBlawg.

Though this sounds like common sense, the potential for carelessness is always present, says Kevin Pho, an internist in Nashua, N.H. . . .“The easier it is to publish something, like a [Facebook] status update or a [tweet], the easier it is to slip up and give identifying information.”

Another point made is that there is no anonymity on the web, and whatever you write on Twitter, for instance, is indexed on Google. So, just as you’re not supposed to disparagingly blog about patients or your employer, don’t do it on Twitter or Facebook either.

Because it can and will be found.

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  • http://www.spineatopia.com Dr. Jason

    This is a great point. It’s so easy on Twitter to lose yourself in the masses and not realize there are other people out there we are talking to. That whatever we say can, and will be used against us.


  • http://healthblawg.typepad.com David Harlow

    Thanks for emphasizing some of the points from the article, Kevin. I work with health care providers and others in crafting social media policies and procedures that are specific to their regulatory environment and where they are on the social media learning curve. For more information, please see a recent presentation I gave on the subject:http://j.mp/sHtw0 (this was for a physician practice audience; I’ve given similar presentations for hospital audiences) — and feel free to contact me.

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