Tips for Staying HIPAA-Compliant on Social Media

November 22nd, 2013 2 Min read Tips for Staying HIPAA-Compliant on Social Media Blog
hipaaSocial media networks like Facebook, Twitter and LinkedIn are great for keeping in touch with friends and family, and they can also help you build your professional network. However, as a healthcare provider, you need to be careful that what you post online doesn't violate Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act (HIPAA) laws. Here are four tips for staying HIPAA-compliant on social media:
  1. Be careful when adding patients as friends on social media networks. While you may worry about hurting feelings or seeming unfriendly, limiting your Facebook or Twitter interactions to family members and friends is a good idea. This protects you from patients who might ask personal health questions publicly, and it also ensures that you don't reveal the names of patients you treat, thereby violating a HIPAA regulation.
  2. Never post photos of patients or anything that could identify them, such as charts, notes or X-rays. Even if you keep your social networks private, you never know who'll be viewing your posts or sharing them with others. Protect your patients and yourself by considering the photos you publish carefully, and be wary of the pictures you like and share or retweet on social media, too.
  3. Do not publish disparaging thoughts about your patients, co-workers, employers or clients online. It can be tempting to rant about a particularly challenging day on Facebook, but think twice before posting anything that casts the people you work with or care for in a negative light. Even if you don't use their names, patients who identify themselves in your post may report you for a HIPAA violation. Negative remarks about your company or coworkers are unprofessional and could put your job in jeopardy (and make it difficult to find a new one).
  4. Avoid disclosing protected health information (PHI) on social media and in online forums, even among other health professionals. Though you can discuss a patient's PHI with another doctor who is also treating that patient, posting PHI online for others to see -- even if you're asking for another professional opinion -- is a bad idea. Patients might be identified simply by their symptoms (or the time you posted their PHI), and forum and social media posts are easily shared or even captured as screenshots.
SEE ALSO: 5 Things a Physician Should Know About Social Media


Lindsay Wilcox

Lindsay Wilcox

Lindsay Wilcox is a communication professional with experience writing for the healthcare and entertainment industries as well as local government. When she's not circling typos, she's enjoying fish tacos and hanging out with her family.

See all articles from this author