By Brandon Clark
Patient privacy is an area in which medical professionals are obligated to protect. It is vital to any health care organization that the patient’s private information is safe and secure. Patients trust health care organizations with some of their most private information and have confidence in the organization that their information will not be shared with other individuals or organizations. Health care professionals are trained to handle the information and protect each individual patient that they assist.
With the creation of such social networking sites as Facebook and Twitter, health care professionals are starting to discuss work related issues on the Internet. This is one area that is starting to become more of a problem than most people realized. Social networking sites are a way for individuals to connect all over the world and almost anyone can have access to the information that is shared on social networking profiles.
Mostly everyone in the United States is using social networking sites to reach out to family, friends, co-workers, and other professionals. These social networking sites have grown to be a part of our daily lives and we are using them for work and personal gains. Medical professionals and students are starting to use these social networking sites to post pictures and statuses of their everyday life. These pictures and statuses are on their personal profiles, but may contain information from other people’s life. Many students feel they are entitled to post what they wish on their personal profiles, maintaining that the information is in fact personal and not subject to the same policies and guidelines that govern their professional behavior on campus1. This is becoming more of an issue since medical professionals and students are posting information or pictures from patients they are assisting.
At UCLA, Dr. Parker has assigned a task force, which includes students, to devise guidelines that students can follow when making decisions about what to post and what to keep to themselves. “It’s going to be difficult,” he says. “Most students want us to provide them with education and guidelines, but not policies. It is a different culture; we always say we have to be culture-sensitive to our patients, but we have to be culture-sensitive to our students as well” (Park, 2009). This is a key element in how the future of our nation will be. We will have to adapt to social networking sites and how we interact with other individuals. While social networking sites such as Facebook and Twitter have bad reputations from some people, it also is there to reach more individuals in a shorter amount of time. Doctors are able to reach out to other doctors from around the world in a matter of seconds. This allows health care professionals to ask questions or get advice from other professionals when they need it the most.
Ethics & Legal Issues
While we adapt to these social networking sites, we also have to be aware of any ethical and legal issues that may arise. It is vital that professionals do not use any of the patient’s personal information or photographs of their face if they do post anything on Facebook or Twitter. If they are reaching out to ask advice or post a picture, they can do so without causing any damage to the patient.
Health care professionals have to be aware of the state and federal laws that they could break if they post information about the patient such as name, Social Security number, address, test results and other personal information. Social networking sites can help health care professionals, but it is imperative that the patient’s well-being and trust are honored first. Health care professionals have to respect each patient’s personal information and ensure that they are not posting information related to the patient.
Social Networking Sites
It is essential that supervisors and managers explain the importance of protecting the patient’s personal information. Managers should have meetings with the employees and explain to them how to be professional on social networking sites such as Facebook and Twitter. It is vital that each employee understands the significance of the repercussions of their acts if they post patient’s personal information.
Managers should go over the ethical issues that can arise if the professional does post inappropriate information. Managers should also go over the state and federal laws that they must uphold to each patient. Patients can sue the organization and the employee if their information gets posted to social networking sites. There can be many other legal issues that can arise if the organization does not control what is posted on their employee’s social networking profile.
One major solution that can keep health care organizations on top of what their health care professionals post on social networking sites is to have access to their social networking profile. They should be able to see what each employee of the organization posts each day and have it where it is mandatory that each employee allow the organization to see their profile. This can entail having the organization have its own profile page that employees can be friends with. This is a way where the organization can see the employee’s personal page, without violating any of the personal privacy.
There should also be rules and regulations that each employee must uphold if the employee chooses to have a social networking profile. It is vital to the organization that each employee that is among the organization understands how to properly use social networking sites.
Adapting to Change
Health care organizations have to adapt to the changes of the way individuals are interacting with each other. Social networking sites have become a part of everyone’s daily lives and it has raised more challenges for health care organizations to monitor. Health care professionals and students are using the social networking sites to talk about professional information to other individuals. This can be done without causing any problems for the health care organizations or its employees if the social networking sites are monitored and each individual employee knows how to properly use them.
It is up to the managers of the health care organizations to explain and set forth rules and regulations when using these social networking sites. These social networking sites can help employees discuss research and other various situations in the health care industry, but it is imperative that they use their best judgment and protect the patient’s personal information when doing so.
1 Park, A. (2009, September 23). Are med-student tweets breaching patient privacy? . Retrieved from http://www.time.com/time/health/article/0,8599,1925430,00.html
Brandon Clark is a junior in college studying in the health care industry field. He already has one degree in Pharmacy Practice and is studying for his second one in Health care information systems. He is the owner of a Four Wheel Drive Lift Kits website that sells Tuff Country Lift Kits. He enjoys school and working on his site, but he does enjoy relaxing more.