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Healthcare Computer SupportSocial media like Facebook, Twitter and LinkedIn have proven their usefulness in the business world. But when it comes to the health care industry, it may be difficult to see how using social media can do anything more than cause unnecessary problems.

Let’s look at how social media can benefit health care organizations and patients alike. When used strictly for internal communication, a social medium like Facebook could make it easier for employees and colleagues to share ideas, schedule meetings, and give and receive work-related advice, which could improve patient care and outcomes. Twitter could be an excellent tool for letting patients, colleagues and employees know about events, changes in policies and other relevant information related to a particular health care organization. LinkedIn can serve as a resource that lets potential employees know about current job openings. LinkedIn groups are great forums for health care professionals to discuss industry trends, revolutionary treatments, etc. But social media use requires the establishment of usage policies, employee education, monitoring, management and archiving of important information.

A white paper issued by Osterman Research in April 2012 discusses the importance of archiving social media content. According to Osterman, failure to archive social media content causes “serious problems” for health care organizations because “business records in social media streams [could] be required to ensure regulatory or legal compliance.” That’s just one major challenge facing health care organizations.

Often, the malicious software programs that infiltrate health care organizations’ systems enter through the organizations’ social media pages. One way to reduce the odds of a hacker’s gaining access to an organization’s network could be to prevent anyone other than a certain group(s) from being able to post anything on the organization’s social media pages. Even Twitter has a function that allows users to control who can follow their tweets. Having the IT department regularly monitor network and social media activity could make it easier for organizations to catch a breach as soon as it happens. This is where outsourced IT services providers really come in handy. Unfortunately, employees can damage a health care organization as much as any hacker.

One policy that any trusted advisor would recommend a health care organization establish is that of never discussing patients on social media, except in the most general terms, and never in a disparaging manner. This should extend to employees’ personal social media pages as well, even though administrators have no way to monitor employees’ after-work behavior.

For example, according to Osterman, “employees of the Tri-City Medical Center in Oceanside, Calif. posted patient

information on Facebook.” In another instance, “a hospital employee in Hawaii with access to patients’ medical records illegally accessed someone’s records and posted on MySpace that the individual had HIV.” These types of blatant HIPAA violations could easily lead to costly law suits as well as distrust among those seeking treatment.

Health care organizations have their work cut out for them when it comes to making effective use of social media. There are many potential benefits to using social media but only if health care administrators take the time to establish policies, monitor activity and train their employees.

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