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The do's and don'ts of social media for physical therapists

The do's and don'ts of social media for physical therapists

Social media offers physical therapists benefits like patient education, community engagement, professional networking, and practice promotion. However, healthcare organizations must adhere to privacy regulations when using social media. In May 2023, the Guardian reported that NHS trusts shared patient details with Facebook without consent, leading to a data breach. Physical therapists can help build their practices using social media if they adhere to privacy guidelines.


The dos of social media for physical therapists

  • Sharing general health information: Providing informative content about physical therapy and general wellness tips can help physical therapists establish themselves as trusted sources of healthcare information. 
  • Public service announcements: You can use social media platforms to share information about upcoming events, seminars, or webinars, allowing community members to stay informed and participate in opportunities for learning and networking.
  • Inspirational stories (with caution): Sharing success stories with written consent from patients, and ensuring anonymity to protect patient privacy, can inspire others and showcase the positive impact of physical therapy. 
  • Professional networking: Connecting with peers and healthcare professionals allows physical therapists to stay updated on industry trends, exchange knowledge, and foster professional relationships. 

Related: Is posting on social media a HIPAA violation?


The don'ts of social media for physical therapists

  • Patient case studies: Discussing specific patient cases, even without names, can potentially violate HIPAA regulations and compromise patient privacy. Physical therapists should refrain from sharing any details that could identify a patient, including their medical history, treatment plan, or progress.
  • Before & after photos: Sharing "before and after" photos of patients' physical improvements is strictly prohibited under HIPAA regulations. Even if patients provide consent for the use of their photos, PTs must ensure that no identifying information is included and that patient privacy is fully protected.
  • Testimonials: Posting patient testimonials containing names or identifying information can pose privacy risks and should be avoided. Instead of sharing specific testimonials, focus on sharing general success stories or experiences without revealing any patient-specific details.
  • Responding to patient inquiries: Physical therapists should refrain from responding to patient inquiries about their specific condition or treatment plan through social media and instead direct them to secure communication channels like HIPAA compliant email


How HIPAA applies to social media use by physical therapists

Privacy considerations

Physical therapists must ensure patient privacy and confidentiality when discussing health-related topics on social media, avoiding sharing protected health information (PHI). This includes refraining from sharing patient names, photos, medical histories, or any other details that could potentially identify a patient without their explicit consent.


Security measures

Implementing secure communication channels, reviewing and updating privacy settings on social media profiles, and educating staff members on safeguarding patient data help maintain HIPAA compliance. Regularly review your social media practices and ensure that appropriate security measures are in place to protect patient information from unauthorized access or disclosure.


Professional boundaries

Maintain professionalism in social media interactions and refrain from sharing personal opinions or engaging in discussions that could compromise patient privacy or confidentiality.


Compliance training and oversight

Ensure all staff members are educated on HIPAA regulations and understand their responsibilities in maintaining patient privacy and confidentiality in all social media interactions.

Read more: Social media & HIPAA compliance: The ultimate guide



Should physical therapists use personal social media accounts to interact with patients or share professional content?

Physical therapists should maintain separate personal and professional social media accounts to uphold patient privacy and professionalism. Using a dedicated professional account allows PTs to share relevant content and interact with patients while keeping personal and private matters separate.


Can physical therapists post about specific treatment techniques or modalities they use in their practice on social media?

While physical therapists can share general information about treatment techniques or modalities, they should avoid making specific claims or guarantees about treatment outcomes on social media. They should focus on providing educational content and encouraging patients to consult with them directly for personalized treatment recommendations.


What steps should physical therapists take if they accidentally disclose patient information on social media?

If a physical therapist inadvertently discloses patient information on social media, they should promptly delete the post or comment containing the information and notify their practice's privacy officer or compliance team. Assess the extent of the breach, take corrective actions, and implement measures to prevent similar incidents in the future, such as additional staff training on HIPAA compliance.

Read more: How to respond to a data breach


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