A recent article published on socialmediatoday.com suggests that unlike other professional industries, health care providers have been slow to engage on social media. The article posits that the key reasons for their reluctance stem from concerns about accountability and privacy. At its root, the issue seems to be that between the protections afforded under the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act (HIPAA) and more generalized notions of physician-patient confidentiality, many providers are concerned that a presence in social media threatens patient confidentiality and exposes them to expanded liability. The article makes the point that a lack of social media presence is itself risky for health care providers, and argues that the risk of not establishing a presence subjects providers to potentially negative commentary and characterization.
The risks to physicians, hospitals and similar providers posed by interaction on social media are analogous to a large extent to those faced by lawyers, a group which in my experience has fairly enthusiastically embraced social media, and opportunities for professional on-line communication and networking. Like physicians, lawyers are bound by client confidentiality. We are also bound by rules of professional conduct that regulate what we are permitted to communicate about our services and our experience. This does (or should) cause us to be cautious and deliberative when engaging social media, particularly when we do so under color of our profession and/or our firm. Notwithstanding these restrictions, lawyers have been active in social media for many years.
On the other hand, health care providers have to be concerned about additional scrutiny that we lawyers do not. This includes state and federal oversight associated with Medicare and Medicaid, as well as board licensure review. Health care providers also face heightened attention and expectations of accountability when there is a bad patient outcome. Providers may be understandably leery of engaging in yet another form of exposure and communication in which there is certainly opportunity for “bad press.” However, as the socialmediatoday.com article suggests, media silence can be detrimental both from a financial point of view and in the arena of public opinion. Even social media silence.