Breaking Compliance News Blog

Social Media Snafus: Keep Your Staff HIPAA Compliant

Posted by Margaret Scavotto, JD, CHC on 10/18/18 6:59 AM

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An EMS worker gave CPR to a man who suffered a heart attack in his chicken coop. The EMS worker later posted on Facebook: "Well, we had a first... We worked a code in a chicken coop. Knee deep in chicken droppings."

A medical student who helped deliver a baby posted to Instagram a selfie of himself next to the mother's genitals.

A hospital employee appeared in a photo flipping off a newborn baby, with the caption: "How I currently feel about these mini Satans." The photo was shared 185,000 times on Facebook.

A pediatric ICU/ER nurse discussed a child's measles diagnosis on a Facebook page, before the measles case was announced to the public.

What do these stories have in common?

They're true. They involve disrespect to patients. They potentially violate HIPAA. They likely caused their organizations' privacy officers to pour hours into analyzing whether patients needed to be notified of a breach of HIPAA or other privacy laws. And, they made news headlines, creating a sizable PR problem for each provider involved.

Would your employees do this?

Your employees have Facebook, Instagram, Snapchat and Twitter accounts. They text. How many times do you think your employees text and post to social media every day? 

How often do you train staff on how to use social media without violating HIPAA (or disrespecting patients)? Once a year? Is your training frequent, helpful - and memorable - enough to ensure your employees get this right?

Help your employees use social media appropriately.

  • Implement a social media policy.
  • Train employees to recognize PHI.
  • Use examples. Help your team understand how seemingly innocent posts can violate HIPAA.
  • Train some more! Keep HIPAA and social media top of mind.
  • Encourage staff to report violations of the policy. This will allow you to research potential breaches and mitigate them swiftly.

Taking on the unstoppable world of social media might seem impossible. But it's better to help employees use it properly--and know when they aren't--than to cover our eyes and wait to hear it from the patients (or the media).

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Topics: Social Media, HIPAA

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