People Get It: Why Doctors Shouldn’t Worry Much About Negative Comments and HIPAA Violations in Social Media

flickr: StormKatt

flickr: StormKatt

You could call Dr. Jeff Livingston, OB/GYN, a social media pioneer.

As I explained in earlier blog posts here and here, the Irving, TX, physician has been using social media to educate and connect with his patients since his teenage daughter suggested he start a My Space page to reach out to high school students struggling with pregnancy and STDs.

I know that many doctors are reluctant to embrace social media for fear of HIPAA violations and negative comments, so I asked him how he responds to those concerns.

Avoiding HIPAA violations in social media is natural

“I don’t think it’s that hard” to avoid HIPAA violations, he says. “If you step out of technology and just think about how doctors communicate throughout the day, they do it very naturally and never think about it.

“When you’re in a doctor’s lounge there’s a certain way of talking. When you get into the lobby you change. And when you get on an elevator you completely change. And you do that very naturally.

“The same thing applies on the internet. It’s a very big elevator with a lot of people on it. What you are already doing naturally can flow to the technology itself.”

Never disclose any kind of private health information

Livingston says the concept is simple. “You can never disclose any kind of private, personal health information. You can’t diagnose. You can’t treat. But you can answer general questions. You can be helpful. You can provide lots of health information. You can provide guidance. Just don’t diagnose and treat patients.”

A couple of years ago a patient posted a question on the practice Facebook page. “Is it okay to go swimming while you’re pregnant?

There is a safe way to respond: “Unless instructed by your doctor, there’s no reason why a pregnant woman can’t enjoy a swimming pool. Water is relaxing, it will take pressure off your back and it will cool you off in a hot Texas sun.”

Or there is the illegal way: “Because you have difficult labors and an abnormal placenta, it’s not a good idea for you to swim.”

How do you respond to negative comments?

“To be honest, it doesn’t happen that much for us,” says Livingston. “I’m not going to engage in controversial discussions on Twitter or post controversial things on Facebook. We really haven’t had people put negative stuff on our Facebook page.

“I actually don’t totally understand why this is true, but I can tell you from years now of doing it, it is true. Most patients inherently understand how social networks work and behave incredibly appropriately,” he explains.

“I have never had someone send me a tweet that said ‘I think I’m in labor.’ I have never had someone put on our Facebook page, ‘I think my water broke.’ People who use these networks understand the public nature and act appropriately.”

How we help

Hive Strategies helps health systems create HIPAA-compliant online communities for better health, lower costs and greater loyalty.

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