AHRA 2017 preview: Be mindful with social media

Social media can be a boon to healthcare workers and the provider institutions they work for—but it can just as easily be a bust. Just ask the nursing students expelled from school for posting “hilarious” x-rays of an anonymous emergency patient with a foreign object lodged inside a body cavity. The students committed no HIPAA violation, just a breach in basic ethics. But the lapse was enough to derail a couple of promising careers before they even began.

That’s one example of social media “Don’ts” to be offered at AHRA 2017 by Tosca Bridges Taylor, a radiology technologist who also serves as imaging instructor and education coordinator at John Muir Health in Walnut Creek, Calif. Her July 12 talk in Anaheim is titled “Imaging & Social Media: What Happens in the Hospital Doesn’t Always Stay in the Hospital.”

“I encourage imaging departments to use social media. It’s a great avenue to get your business out there,” she says. “But you have to be mindful.”

In a phone interview with HealthImaging, Bridges Taylor underscored how easy it can be for social media to tempt people not just to willful mischief but also to plain carelessness.

“You can instantaneously post what you eat,” she says. “You can post your vacation pictures. It can be hard to discern the difference between posting from your everyday life and posting from someone’s medical record.”

Of course, there’s a big difference between posting to your own personal account and to that of the organization you work for. However, even in the case of the latter, you might not have posting credentials but can still chime in via comment box. All interactions with online platforms call for diligence, Bridges Taylor warns.

She describes an incident in which a patient used a hospital’s Facebook page to compliment the staff on the care she’d received. Someone at the hospital replied with an equally nice comment—and then added an ill-advised word of congratulations on the patient’s sobriety.

“As soon as they mentioned sobriety, they may have committed a HIPAA violation,” says Bridges Taylor. “You might find yourself wanting to say, ‘Congratulations on beating cancer.’ But in some circumstances, the OCR might consider even that to be a HIPAA violation.” (The OCR is HHS’s Office for Civil Rights, which is in charge of enforcing HIPAA.)

It’s often the small things that “blow up and go viral,” says Bridges Taylor. “And then you’re left wondering what happened. Your organization is getting fined. The OCR is going through your paperwork. My advice is: Don’t post anything to social media if it is patient-related.”

There are social media platforms perfectly appropriate for sharing sensitive clinical information, she notes. For example, physicians use sites like Doximity, Sermo and DailyRounds to compare case notes, get second opinions and collaborate on research.

Plus many radiology departments are successfully using social media to promote their new imaging equipment, celebrate work anniversaries, contribute to fundraisers in their respective communities and so on.

Looking ahead, Bridges Taylor is hopeful about the future of medical imaging people using social media wisely and beneficially.

Getting there will entail learning from past mistakes like the ones she’ll roll out in her AHRA session.

“We have to be mindful of who is coming in, the new people who are just graduating now or have recently graduated,” she says. “We older people do social media, but we don’t use it like young people. With a lot of them, all they do is social media—all day, every day. Once we can get through to this generation and let them understand the importance of the rules, I think things will be okay.”