Many healthcare professionals use websites to offer potential clients a view into their offices and to introduce their staff. They may also use their websites to document and share their research and accomplishments, and their practice philosophies. And a good site can offer people real knowledge online about issues and advancements in the area.

To get their online work seen, professionals may engage content writers who understand search engine optimization (SEO).

But there’s more to the professional website than SEO. The writer working with any licensed practitioner must ensure the website informs the public accurately and ethically.

Consider the Dentist’s Website

SEO techniques used for a dentist’s website should adhere to the American Dental Association’s Principles of Ethics and Code of Professional ConductThis code now includes a subsection titled “Websites and Search Engine Optimization.”

The ADA acknowledges dentists’ need to use services that help flag their websites to people searching for dental information. The ADA considers advertising a proper task of the dentist. It simply requires that promotions tell the truth, and websites offer accurate news and information. The site should offer nothing that could mislead “in a material respect.”

It’s a straightforward expectation for a person responsible to a community. It makes the internet better too.

To the writer, it is vital guidance. A good writer will carefully research and understand every piece of information that informs a post.

A writer who is also a professional has a cut-no-corner policy when it comes to claims in blogs, webpages, and social media announcements.

How Does the HIPAA Privacy Rule Interact With Content Writing?

Recently, the HIPPA Journal published an article called “HIPAA Social Media Rules.” The HIPPA Journal acknowledges key benefits of social media for medical groups:

  • Healthcare providers can interact with a community and support its well-being.
  • They can convey useful messages or and updates about services.
  • They can use social media to expand their client population.

HIPAA (the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act) predates Facebook and other social media platforms. It does not address social media. In that sense, Facebook is not a HIPAA-compliant environment.

Yet we can apply HIPAA laws and standards to Facebook and other social media. The HIPAA Journal recommends training on this topic before employment and on the job, with annual refresher courses. This is sound advice.

The HIPPA Journal is especially strict in its advice on how to publish updates. It directs medical groups to oversee their employees’ social media posts. And it wants every post reviewed in advance for compliance.

Social media doesn’t fit that model. The person handling a healthcare group’s social media maintenance needs a measure of authority to answer something late at night, or respond to an innocuous tweet in a timely manner. Good tweeters, including those in healthcare, are real conversationalistsBureaucracy can put a damper on what’s best about social media, what the public expects of it, and the way professionals use it. A writer’s grasp of professional ethics will ensure compliance in a way that doesn’t defeat the purpose of social media.

Google Plus, Facebook, and LinkedIn posts are more formal, and the vetting policy makes more sense with those platforms. The social media writer-manager should be empowered to answer a comment quickly on Facebook once a post is up. Facebook rates business and nonprofit pages higher for prompt responses.

What the HIPAA Journal Doesn’t Cover, But Should

Healthcare ethics bodies must recognize that many content writers are not employees of the providers and medical groups. The independent content writer whose clientele includes a hospital, a doctor’s office, or a medical association must also grasp HIPAA’s relevance.

This is a serious responsibility for a writer to carry. People can lose their jobs or their professional licensure for dropping the ball on patient privacy. The Office for Civil Rights at the Department of Health and Human Services does issue fines for failure to abide by HIPAA, even if the violator was well-meaning and unaware of the applicable privacy provision.

So let’s go over exactly how privacy rules and social media interact. This is what a writer should keep in mind about HIPAA.

The Key Impacts of the HIPAA Privacy Rule on Social Media

While social media encourages real conversation, posts must never, ever reveal protected health information. This can include text, images, video clips, or some combination of the three.

This might seem obvious, but for a care provider on social media it can be especially tempting to post about, and celebrate, good outcomes. Yet doing this, even without identifying anyone, will happen in a wider context. This is the internet. Viewers have plenty of ways to find information connected with a post or image. They use a search engine or other platforms to connect some dots, and draw inferences about who’s involved.

Another example of an inadvertent slip-up may include a great review on Facebook. The well-treated client might be delighted see the office sharing the post. To be on the right side of HIPAA, only do this if the patient consents in writing, and then be sure to use their information only for the purpose expressed in the consent form. It is best just to let the clients post their rave reviews, given how easy it is for others to take posts and “re-purpose” them, make them into memes, or what have you.

A Dependable Writer Is Not a Luxury

The person handling social media maintenance for a healthcare provider’s accounts should:

  • Have acquired in-depth knowledge of professional responsibility;
  • Use strong passwords and have a basic understanding of cybersecurity; and
  • Be directly accountable to the provider who owns the accounts.

Contracting with content agencies for social media and blog posts may save money, but it can heighten risks for a healthcare provider, and increase the need for oversight of the content.

If You Work in Healthcare, and Have an Online Presence. . .

Have a dependable social media writer. Be sure you can count on that person to moderate social media posts, to check your accounts frequently, and to take a post down if it attracts problematic chatter about clients.

Steer clear of supposedly private or secret Facebook groups or purportedly private direct Twitter messages. Screenshots can come back to bite the careless commentator. Never allow the posting of visuals in which patients might be even vaguely visible.

I hope this post won’t put anyone off social media. These platforms are excellent channels for health tips, emergency information, office news, local events, new research announcements, and content marketing. Many providers and associations use them, to the great benefit of their professional communities and the public.

Just be sure to steer clear of referring to anyone’s personal health information. And be sure your writer puts your clients’ privacy first, and takes your professional ethics as seriously as you do.

If you are a professional healthcare provider, you’re welcome to contact Content Elf to discuss social media maintenance, webpage writing, and blogging that meets your professional ethics standards.

Banner photo by U.S. Navy photo by Photographer’s Mate 3rd Class William Hiembuch [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons Source: Wikimedia Commons.

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