Facebook and Doctor’s Offices

“Did your kids get their flu shots this year?  We got ours at the clinic last weekend.”

“No, I didn’t know they were having a flu clinic!!”

“Well, they posted the dates and times on Facebook – did you not see it?”

Welcome the entire medical community to the 21st century!  The medical community is coming online as a way to stay in touch with their patients.

I was inspired to write this post after my recent quarterly blood pressure check at my doctor’s office.  Dr. M asked how my business was going and was inquiring about what all I do.  He mentioned he was thinking of starting a Facebook page for his practice to use as an educational tool for his friends and patients.  Of course, he got one of my cards for his office manager, but I got to thinking when I left…what a great blog post idea!

Why would a doctor or dentist want to be on Facebook?  Here are some reason why any medical professional would want to be…

1.  Education
Knowledge is power.  Social media can enable a doctor’s office to educate their patients on upcoming clinics, flu prevention, common health tips and so forth.  Facebook already has their attention, why not go where they are?  It’s flu season, why not post the flu FACTS for everyone to know.  If you are a dentist, why not tell your patients/fans/followers about the latest teeth whitening products?  The education is endless.

2.  Community Service
Almost all medical offices are involved in some sort of philantropy.  Whether it’s a cancer center supporting the American Cancer Society or you cardiologist being a part of the American Heart Association, that is something you want to promote.  Believe it or not, there are those who will pick a doctor based not only on recommendation, but on how they give back.  I have a plastic surgeon as a client and he’s a part of a local breast cancer board.  We advertise that foundation’s events and education series.  You don’t want to be tacky about it, but it’s good pr.

3.  Patient Services
Is your office taking new patients?  Did you just gain a new insurance carrier?  Are your fees changing?  Are you changing your office hours?  These are all things that can be relayed to your patients through social media.  There is a local pediatrician office here on Facebook that if they take on a new insurance carrier, they post it.  Sometimes, unfortunately, insurance dictates who you can go to.  Wouldn’t that be a great way to find out you can now go to the doctor you want?

You may say, “wait, wouldn’t that violate some HIPAA rule?”

According to the article, “Social Media and HIPAA: What You Need to Know” by CareNetworks, ”

The Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act (HIPAA) requires that a patient’s identity and personal health information be protected (also called Protected Health Information, or PHI). Health care providers who violate HIPAA can face stiff penalties, including fines up to $250,000 and/or imprisonment for up to 10 years for knowingly misusing individually identifiable health information. As a result, many care-related organizations shy away from deploying social media, blogs, and online communities due to fear of HIPAA violations. This is unfortunate as these organizations are missing out on the many opportunities and benefits that social technologies offer.

Senior living companies, homecare agencies, skilled nursing facilities, hospitals and the like, should feel free to engage in social media – as long as mechanisms to secure PHI are employed. Information posted to blogs, Twitter accounts, Facebook pages, or online communities by health care companies should be prepared for public consumption and each organization engaging in social media should have policies and guidelines related to social media and online communications in place prior to deploying these technologies. ”

Well, can I be friends with my patients on Facebook?

Kevinmd.com mentioned on his page that, according to Washington, DC physician Katherine Chretian, ” no, doctors should not be friending their patients:

Having a so-called dual relationship with a patient — that is, a financial, social or professional relationship in addition to the therapeutic relationship — can lead to serious ethical issues and potentially impair professional judgment. We need professional boundaries to do our job well.

Furthermore, there’s the little matter of patient privacy and HIPAA. I wasn’t aware of this, but simply becoming Facebook friends with patients can infringe upon uncertain ground:

Much more serious are the potential threats to patient privacy that can occur when patients and physicians are communicating on a public platform such as Facebook.

Violations of the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act, the law that protects against unauthorized disclosure of identifying health information, can result in fines up to $250,000 and/or imprisonment, besides being an ethical breach. The mere existence of a patient-physician relationship (e.g. having others suspect a Facebook friend is a patient) could be a violation of HIPAA.

Facebook pages, which many doctors and practices have — KevinMD.com is no exception — are the best way to interact with patients. Separate your personal and professional entities on Facebook.”

Even though there may be a lot to consider and as long as it is used correctly, there is definitely a plus for a medical office to be on Facebook.

Two examples to see: Statesboro Plastic Surgery and Joseph F. Griffin, DMD.

The first is a current client of mine and the second is my personal dentist, who I helped set him up.  His office does the Facebook management on it.

Questions?  Thoughts?  Let me know!

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