Social Media and Medicine: A HIPAA Primer

Businesses live and die by Social Media in today’s economy, and Medical Practices are not immune from bad reviews. Businesses have options regarding bad reviews: they can ignore them, fight them or respond, especially if the comment is especially grievous. However, due to HIPAA, Medical Offices cannot respond to any complaint other than the boilerplate:

We at ABC Medicine take all comments regarding our practice very seriously. We request that if you have an issue, please contact the office.

Medical Professionals, being human, at times want to respond to a complaint. Elite Dental Associates, located in Dallas Texas, found out the hard way that this is a HIPAA violation: 

Responding to online patient reviews just cost a dental practice $10,000 after it was accused of disclosing a patients’ health information in social media posts. 

Elite Dental Associates ran into trouble after a patient filed a complaint with the OCR in June 2016 alleging the practice responded to a social media review posted on Yelp, an online business review forum, by disclosing the patient’s last name and details of her treatment plan, insurance and cost information. 

There is a thought that if a patient posts about their medical treatment, giving details, that it is now permissible for the Medical Office to respond. This is not true:

Experts on social media say that whenever doctors or healthcare professionals post on social media sites they need to be aware of HIPAA regulations and protect the confidentiality of patients.

As an Administrator, I once had to take down a facebook site because patients were posting pictures of themselves in the exam area, thus violating HIPAA privacy.

In medical facilities now, you may see signs posted requesting ‘No Video or Pictures during the appointment.’ This is because HIPAA clearly states that personal health information cannot be posted in any public area, including Social Media.

 

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