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Why your Compliance Officer should talk about texting.

Posted by Margaret Scavotto, JD, CHC on 7/26/16, 6:30 AM

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A growing number of corporations are establishing social media policies. This trend is particularly salient in the healthcare industry, where employee social media posts can violate HIPAA. The news abounds with stories of tweets, Facebook posts, and Snapchats taken in hospitals and nursing homes, many posted inadvertently, which raise both HIPAA issues and patient dignity concerns - two high priority items for any compliance officer. These social media policies can also be used to address employee texting, which can lead to similar violations.

For example, two paramedics were arrested over a texting "selfie war," and now face criminal charges. The paramedics competed to capture and text the most shocking (degrading?) pictures of their patients. I cannot bear to repeat the details, but you can read them here.

Unfortunately, this disturbing news is not an isolated incident. A ProPublica study found 44 episodes of long term care staff posting inappropriate content to social media since 2012 - a statistic that of course only includes reported incidents. Providers holding on to a "no phone at work" policy or a "no social media at work" policy need to move on and start talking to their staff about the right and wrong ways to use social media. Yes, providers can limit staff access to texting and social media during work hours. But what do you do when you get home? Into your car? Into the elevator? Send a text? Check Facebook? Compliance officers who talk to their staff about the right and wrong way to use these platforms have a far better chance of protecting their patients and staying out of the headlines.

Start talking

  • Start with a HIPAA and social media policy, if you don't already have one.
  • Do your employees know that one text or social media post could result in criminal charges? HIPAA penalties? a lawsuit? License discipline?
  • Yes, the stakes are high, and your team needs to know that. But they also need help getting it right. Use examples to help employees understand how seemingly harmless posts or texts can violate the law.
  • 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.

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