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Social media at the hospital: What's your policy?

Posted Feb 01 2011 8:39pm

by Mike Morrison

Mike Morrison media relations officerWhether or not your hospital decides to use social media as a communications tool--and it should--you're still going to need to implement a social media policy.

Like it or not, social media like Facebook, Twitter, YouTube and blogs are here to stay. Both your employees and patients use them every day, some several times a day. So even if you decide not to start a blog or create a Facebook page you aren't shielding yourself from issues that can arise from their use.

Let's get one thing out in the open. Your employees are using social media and yes, sometimes at work. They're also communicating with co-workers and sharing work stories via social networking sites. Hospitals, not surprisingly, are concerned about the effect this will have on productivity.

I've talked with some healthcare professionals who view social media as something to be done outside the work day while others are more accepting as long as it doesn't impact productivity. Though I generally lean towards the latter view, I think that regardless of how you feel about employees using social media, you need to communicate those views in a clear policy. If you don't communicate your expectations, how can your employees meet them?

Social media and workplace productivity certainly pose issues for any organization but we in healthcare also face the added need to protect the privacy of our patients. Our clinicians and professional staff go to great lengths to protect patient information. We remind our staff to be aware of patient privacy as they make phone calls, send emails, discard documents, and talk in the elevator or corridors of our hospital.

But what about social media? What happens when someone at your hospital tweets or posts to Facebook that they just saw a celebrity in the ER? Lastly, what happens when groups within your hospital want to use social media for purposes related to their work? What will you say?

The first step to confronting these difficult questions is to develop a social media policy . Decide how to approach social media at your hospital. To start, I'd suggest taking a look at Ed Bennett's Found in Cache blog, which is a fantastic resource for healthcare professionals who are interested in social media. Here he provides links to various hospital social media policies . Like any policy your hospital develops, you're going to need to get leadership involved. It may take time, but having a clear understanding of social media at your hospital is important and may even preempt improper use.

Once you have developed your policy, make sure your employees know about it. Include it in hospital-wide email announcements. Incorporate it into your orientation training. For many employees, especially younger ones, social media communication is becoming second nature and preferred over telephones and email. It's important to remind them that patient privacy rules still apply in social media spaces. I will however, make my official pitch and suggest that social media should be viewed as an asset and not a distraction.

No matter how you want your hospital to use social media, ignoring it altogether offers neither the opportunity to benefit from its power nor protection from improper use.

Mike Morrison is a media relations officer at a large Boston teaching hospital. You can follow him on Twitter @MDMorrison82 .

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