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Social media can be used to connect with long lost friends and keep in touch with distant family members, but some dentists are using sites like Facebook to connect with their patients on a new platform. “I started using social media about two years ago when I opened up my own private practice as a tool to build community,” said Chicago based pediatric dentist Dr. Grace Yum.
Social media can be used to connect with long lost friends and keep in touch with distant family members, but some dentists are using sites like Facebook to connect with their patients on a new platform.
“I started using social media about two years ago when I opened up my own private practice as a tool to build community,” said Chicago based pediatric dentist Dr. Grace Yum.
Dr. Yum says it has been a very useful tool for her practice. She says parents are posting questions on her business Yummy Dental Facebook page and other parents are answering the questions based from experience.
“It has been a very useful tool for my practice because being in pediatrics, many parents have similar questions regarding their children and when they post; other patients can answer questions without me violating HIPAA regulations,” Dr. Yum said.
Dr. Yum says when a patient sends her office a question over social media she replies and says this is not something I can answer over the internet. She asks her patients to feel free to call her by phone to conduct a private conversation.
Yummy Dental’s Facebook page allows parents to show their kids what to expect when they get to their appointment.
“They can get online and see what people say about us. They can see the photos posted. They can get to know us before they even get here, which is huge, because it is part of setting expectations. It is part of being believable and being familiar,” Dr. Yum said.
Dr. Yum said she is also very careful about what she posts online.
“I think it is pretty clear cut and a no-brainer on what photos you can post and can’t post,” she said. “If you think it is questionable then don’t post it. We keep it professional. We post photos that are all related to the office. We don’t post photos of our patients unless the parent gives consent.”
Resources to Help Navigate
For those who have questions on what they can and shouldn’t put online, The Ohio State Medical Association (OSMA) was the first medical organization to publish suggested guidelines. Jason Koma the Director of Communications and Marketing for the OSMA says physicians began calling several years ago asking for guidelines on how to communicate via social media. This promoted the OSMA to put together guidelines. Their tool kit was released in August of 2010.
“There are every day real world questions that physicians face in 1) their own personal and professional lives and 2) within the office setting. It is helpful to have some sort of guidance to move forward,”Koma said.
You can view OSMA guidelines at www.osma.org/socialmediapolicy. Below are a few starting guidelines for every practice to follow:
“Toolkits like this are just the first step to help physicians embrace and stay protected in an increasingly digital world,” Koma said.
Avoid these simple guidelines at your own peril. Dr. Alexandra Thran from Rhode Island in April of this year posted information about a patient on Facebook. Dr. Thran was careful enough to not release the patients name while using Facebook. But she typed enough unique information about the patient, that someone was able to identify the patient. The Rhode Island Board of Medicine found Dr. Thran's posting to be “unprofessional conduct” for revealing a patient's personally identifiable information to third parties.
Suggestions for Staff
Dr. Yum has about six other staff members and two doctors on staff. While Dr. Yum understands the risks with social media she only has a verbal social media policy for her staff.
“The social media policy for our staff is basically not to be using it while at work. However I do have one team member on my staff that manages our social media so she kind of controls that while at work. So that way I know that the rest of the team is not using it for their personal gain or pleasure while at work. The policy is that you can only be on it at work if you’re responding to a patient or helping somebody else, “ Dr. Yum said.
Dentists like Dr. Yum may want to revisit their practice's procedures. Just because staff are not involved with social media at work doesn't mean improper posting won't occur from home. Written policies are legally binding and make it easier to take action during a time of discipline. A written policy should include, but is not limited to the following:
Social media has become omnipresent and these guidelines are to help dentists as they seek to embrace or are dragged into what is a very different world in which we communicate today.
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Michael J. Sacopulos is a Partner with Sacopulos, Johnson & Sacopulos, in Terre Haute, Indiana. His core expertise is in medical malpractice defense and third party payment disputes. Sacopulos is also the general counsel for Medical Justice. He may also be reached at email@example.com.