Confidentiality Breaches by Employees on Social Networks

Social media can benefit healthcare providers by serving to educate and disseminate information quickly. However, the use of social media presents challenges to maintaining patient privacy.

Even vague descriptions of an interesting outcome or a text about a situation could allow for identification of a patient and pose serious consequences for the practice as well as the employee. Consider the potential legal repercussions for breaching patient confidentiality by way of an encouraging post or comment on a patient’s Facebook page that inadvertently reveals their healthcare information and identifies them as a patient of the practice.

Enacting a written policy that addresses employee use of social media, both in and out of the office, is in the practice’s best interest. A risk analysis is usually the starting point to forming a responsible policy. Some organizations choose to ban the use of social media in the workplace altogether. Others allow employees to access Facebook and other social outlets during lunch or breaks. Everyone should be reminded that work-related information may not be posted on any website.

Whether social media sites are completely blocked on the employer’s computers or not, it seems inevitable that some employee will utilize these popular resources during their personal time. It is impossible to monitor all employees during their personal time. Thus, enacting a policy that includes an educational component to regularly remind employees of their confidentiality obligations in and out of the workplace can reduce risk. Encouraging all employees to report breaches of patient confidentiality—even those discovered during their personal time—is also advisable. By engaging in a careful risk analysis and developing policies that reflect the organization’s devotion to patient dignity and confidentiality, the practice should be able to limit its exposure.

Would you like the information on this web page in a printable form? If so, click here to view the Confidentiality Breaches by Employees on Social Networks PDF document.