Social Media Poses Potential Patient Privacy Violations for Physicians

Hospitalists should be aware of the privacy perils of social media, according to a lawyer helping to develop a webinar that will focus on the legal implications of healthcare workers’ use of social media platforms.

"The idea that everyone has something important to say in 140 characters or less these days just seems to be part of a growing culture that doesn’t consider the publication of private information to be an intrusion," says Gregory McNeer Jr., principal of Stratford Consulting in Winston-Salem, N.C. "There is a bit of a disconnect—whether it’s with doctors, or patients, or nurses, or technicians, or whomever—as to what their obligations are under the law."

McNeer is partnering with law firm Maguire Woods and mobile technology firm Novarus Healthcare to host the online conference, called "HIPAA and Social Media: Strategies for Protecting Patient Privacy in a HITECH World." The intent, he says, is to raise awareness of the potential privacy pitfalls social media pose for physicians, and to guide session participants through the nuances of the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act (HIPAA) and the Health Information Technology for Economic and Clinical Health (HITECH) Act—measures focused on the protection of patient information.

McNeer says physicians who "vent about a bad day" could inadvertently release patient information that could draw regulatory attention. He points to several instances nationwide in which healthcare professionals have faced consequences for talking about patients on Facebook or posting X-rays online.

"We have a clear channel for unauthorized dissemination of protected healthcare information," he says. "Once somebody has tweeted something, the horse is out of the barn. But do you have a tool that will give you notification of the breach within 24 hours? Or do you wait until the lawsuit shows up?"

The webinar is at 1 p.m. May 30; email McNeer for more information or to register.

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