Sunday, December 5, 2010

Hospitals should not ban access to social media

by Howard Luks, MD

“Instead of focusing on treating him, an employee said, St. Mary nurses and other hospital staff did the unthinkable: They snapped photos of the dying man and posted them on Facebook.”

What can you say about an article like this? I bet there is not a single physician or nurse who are not reasonably conversant about the basic tenets of the health care privacy laws under which they practice.

Stupid is as stupid does. Perhaps more appropriately, stupidity is demonstrated by the actions of the one — or in the case, the many.

It still amazes me that people do not realize what the implication of hitting the “Enter” or “Post” or “Like” button is in our connected global society. In the health care space it is obvious that there are still a handful of doctors, nurses, orderlies, and ancillary providers who still don’t get it.

But what should an institution’s policy be? Ban access on the network? Perhaps naive, but my answer to that is a resounding no. Most people still have smart phones with WiFi or 3G access and can just as easily post to Facebook or Twitter and I doubt that the hospital’s liability is diminished.

Hospitals need to embrace social media, develop a comprehensive social media engagement policy, educate their staff, set acceptable parameters, track or monitor usage, remain vigilant and continue with the education process in perpetuity as social media is fluid and evolving and changing everyday.

Education, clarity, transparency and engagement is the key.  Not banning access.

Howard Luks is an orthopedic surgeon who blogs at The Orthopedic Posterous.

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