Healthcare organizations must stay HIPAA compliant on social media. While there were no specific requirements and guidelines for social media in the initial regulations, HIPAA applies to all forms of communication, including online platforms. Compliance with HIPAA regulations is essential for healthcare organizations and individual employees to avoid hefty penalties and legal action.
There are six policies and procedures healthcare professionals can adopt to ensure HIPAA compliance on social media.
1. Employee education
The first step in staying HIPAA compliant on social media is to educate employees on the risks of violating HIPAA regulations and the importance of social media policies. Training on how to recognize and handle protected health information (PHI) should be provided to employees. That can help ensure that employees know how to prevent the accidental disclosure of patient information. Trainers can use real-life examples to clarify the HIPAA regulations that all employees should follow on social media.
Related: What is protected health information (PHI)?
2. Avoid sharing patient information
PHI includes any information that can be used to identify a patient, such as their name, address, social security number, and medical history. PHI should never, under any circumstances, be shared on social media. That extends to even the instances in which a patient's identity is not revealed. For example, sharing a photo of a patient's medical condition or discussing their medical history could violate HIPAA regulations.
To avoid accidental disclosure of PHI, employees should avoid discussing patients by name or sharing photos of patients. Instead, they should use generic descriptions to discuss medical conditions or procedures.
3. Obtain proper consent
The third strategy for staying HIPAA compliant on social media is obtaining proper consent before sharing patient information. Patients have the right to control the use and disclosure of their PHI. Before sharing patient information on social media, healthcare professionals must obtain valid consent from the patient. Permission must be given voluntarily and in writing, using clear and understandable language. Patients must also be allowed to ask questions and revoke their consent at any time.
Related: Navigating the ethics of soliciting reviews for mental health professionals
4. Develop social media policies
The fourth strategy for staying HIPAA compliant on social media is to develop comprehensive social media policies. Social media policies should outline the rules and guidelines for employees to follow when using social media. Policies should cover topics such as what information can and cannot be shared on social media, how to handle negative comments or reviews, and how to maintain the privacy and security of patient information.
Key stakeholders, such as legal and compliance teams, must be involved when developing social media policies. Policies should be reviewed and updated regularly to ensure they remain HIPAA compliant.
5. Secure communication channels
All communication channels used to discuss patient information should be secure and encrypted. Employees should avoid using public Wi-Fi or personal email accounts to discuss patient information, as these channels are not secure and could lead to accidental disclosure of PHI.
Instead, employees should use encrypted messaging apps or secure email services to discuss patient information. These communication channels should be password-protected and only accessible to authorized personnel. Healthcare organizations must ensure that they are sending HIPAA compliant emails at all times.
6. Separate personal and professional accounts
The final strategy for staying HIPAA compliant on social media is to separate personal and professional social media accounts. Employees should never use personal social media accounts to discuss or share patient information. Personal social media accounts should be kept separate from professional accounts to avoid any confusion or accidental disclosure of PHI.
Additionally, employees should use different email addresses and passwords for personal and professional social media accounts to maintain separation. They should also avoid discussing work-related topics on personal social media accounts and vice versa.
Stay safe on social media
Staying HIPAA compliant on social media is essential for healthcare organizations and individual employees to protect patient privacy and avoid penalties and legal action. By following these strategies, healthcare organizations and employees can ensure they are protecting the privacy and security of patient information while utilizing the benefits of social media for professional purposes.
Read more: Social media & HIPAA compliance: the ultimate guide