Social Media and Privacy in Healthcare

Sometimes in healthcare it seems we are asked to let it all hang out there. We are questioned constantly by healthcare providers about our medical and family history. But they don’t stop there. They ask us about drinking alcohol, doing drugs, and about *gasp* sex. After that is out of the way, usually we are asked to strip naked and wear a thin paper gown. With such sensitive information becoming more pertinent to healthcare providers, the issue of privacy has forged its way to the top of the list for some agencies. The Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act (HIPAA) practically defines the health care given by most professionals.

Enter Social Media. What happens when an industry defined by its privacy laws enters the realm of social media. Let’s be honest, healthcare is steadily behind the curve when it comes to social media presence and marketing. Why? Because we are scared.

Something interesting is happening. Patients are beginning to share their own personal health information on the internet. As more clinicians engage in social media, people are bringing their health questions to light. They are sharing stories of themselves and loved ones as patients. Furthermore, people are searching their symptoms online to find a diagnosis. According to Pew Research Center, 61% of people admit to looking for health information on the internet.

With the transparent nature of social media sites such as Facebook, Twitter, and You Tube, we are seeing a shift in the previous notion of what constitutes patient privacy. Questions arise such as if a patient discloses their own information online, can a clinician respond accordingly? What if my patient “friends” me on Facebook? As a doctor, can I tweet my suggestions for getting over the flu without physically seeing the patient?

In this new world of social networks, we as medical professionals must be sensitive to the laws of privacy while at the same time finding ways to connect. Healthcare governing agencies may need to revisit their current policies and make them more up-to-date as our society changes. The gap is closing between total exposure of personal health information and complete privacy. With this, we quite possibly could see a community that is more engaged with their healthcare providers and healthier as a consequence.

One Comment on “Social Media and Privacy in Healthcare

  1. Social media should be viewed as a tool for good, not evil.

    We can use social media to promote health as well as improve the image of nursing.

    A physician or nurse can and should give general health information via social media, but should steer clear of diagnosis and treatments without seeing that patient. I would think this would be a big grey area with lots of opportunity for liability that we all want to avoid.

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