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Why health care organizations must be careful when using social media

The rise of social media has forever changed not only how individuals communicate with one another in their personal lives, but also how businesses communicate to and with consumers. Traditionally viewed as a more informal and personal means of communication; hospitals, nursing homes and other health care facilities must walk a fine line when attempting to navigate the new world of social media marketing.

Within the health care industry, one of the biggest concerns with regard to using social media to connect with consumers relates to privacy and specifically the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act. The rules and requirements related to HIPPA are extremely strict and individual health care institutions and employees who violate HIPPA are subject to serious penalties including costly fines, licensure and job loss and even legal action.

While social media platforms like Facebook and YouTube can be effective and cost-efficient channels through which hospitals and health care organizations can engage with and educate consumers, it's important to establish strict protocols with regard to their use. For example, without express consent, the names and personal identifying information of individual patients should never be discussed or divulged.

Additionally, when it comes to businesses and the use of social media to promote services and offerings, one size definitely doesn't fit all. For example, while humor may be an effective means of reaching certain market segments, it's rarely appropriate in the context of health care and when discussing medical conditions or illnesses. It's important, therefore, that health care organizations understand their target audience and tailor appropriate messages to reach that audience.

To ensure for consistency in messaging and tone, whenever possible, health care organizations are advised to train and designate one individual to manage their social media campaigns. This individual should be well-versed in both health care marketing and social media best practices and also knowledgeable about HIPPA and other related regulatory matters.

Source: Health IT Security, "Maintaining HIPAA Compliance in Social Media Interaction," Savanna Myer, Feb. 22, 2016

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