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Social Media Risk Management Considerations for Staff

The use of social media has expanded at astounding rates. An ECRI report on social media from 2014 stated that there are now 6 billion hours of YouTube videos uploaded monthly, 757 million daily Facebook users, and 500 million tweets a day. Your staff reflects this trend; surveys from 2011 found that approximately 80% of both doctors and nurses use some type of social media for personal or professional use. A comprehensive policy is a great way to get your arms around this new and expanding area. Interestingly, an article from AIS Health found that only one-third of healthcare organizations had social media guidelines.

Perhaps there were so few social media policies because in 2010 the National Labor Relations Board (NLRB) found that some social media policies, and disciplinary action taken against employees, violated federal labor laws. The findings from the NLRB added a layer of complexity to how employees were treated after an unfavorable social media post. In order to clarify their stance on social media, the NLRB created a sample policy for employers to use.

However, the NLRB sample policy was not designed with healthcare organizations in mind. Specifically the NLRB sample did not address the HIPAA law. Legal experts felt that the NLRB policy was not specific enough for the healthcare world. To that end, AIS Health posted a sample HIPAA and NLRB-compliant social media policy developed by Boston Medical Center (BMC). This sample policy while brief was comprehensive and easy to understand, plus scalable for any size practice. State laws on patient privacy should be considered when creating a social media policy, because state laws can be more restrictive than federal HIPAA laws.

In addition to a social media policy, continuous education was recommended for staff on social media use. In regards to BMC’s social media policy, Nickie Braxton, BMC’s Privacy Officer, stated; “It’s not just about what you can do and can’t do, but why…it’s trying to let people understand the reasoning behind the rules.”

The two-page BMC sample policy covers key components of a social media policy:

  1. General Behavior on Media Sites
  2. Professionalism on Social Media Sites
  3. Representing the Institution on Social Media Sites

Five Tips to Guide Your Hospital’s Social Media Policy:

  1. Keep it short
  2. Keep it simple
  3. Keep it encouraging
  4. Keep it educational
  5. Keep it transparent


ECRI: Embracing Social Media in Healthcare: Minimizing Risks and Protecting the Brand, July 2014.

National Labor Relations Board Social Media Fact Sheet:

Health Leaders Media: Five Tips to Guide Your Hospital’s Social Media Policy, May 2010.

AISHealth: Policy on Use of Social Media, May 18, 2015.