An increasing number of rheumatologists are venturing onto the Internet and, specifically, social media sites. Practice consultants increasingly recommend updating websites, creating a Facebook page, and joining Twitter. Consultants, however, seldom mention that there are legal concerns associated with the Internet and social media for healthcare providers. While social media can be a beneficial marketing tool, it is important for rheumatologists to address the proper ways to use this outreach both inside and outside the workplace through a specific media policy.
Does Your Practice Have a Website?
More than half of medical practices in the United States with fewer than five physicians do not have websites. A website is an excellent and relatively inexpensive way to brand a medical practice.
When potential patients are looking for a physician in a particular specialty and in a specific location, many first turn to Internet search engines. Whether a potential patient is searching for terms such as “rheumatologist and Dallas,” or “Dr. Jack Smith, rheumatology, and Dallas,” you want your website to pop up and be viewed by the searcher. At a minimum, a practice website should include the four W’s:
Who (biographical information about the physicians employed by the practice);
What (the practice’s specialty);
Why (this is your opportunity to shine—tell potential patients why they should select your practice); and
Where (contact information).
Remember, however, that you are legally responsible for the content of your website.
Websites are a form of advertising and are subject to restrictions imposed by federal and state law.
Do You Tweet, Blog, or Surf Facebook?
The terms “Facebook,” “Twitter,” and “blog” are words no longer just spoken by teenagers. The healthcare community—including hospitals, medical practices, and practice staff members—is using Facebook, tweeting, and blogging at an increasing rate. These social media outlets are inexpensive ways for healthcare entities and physicians to disseminate information and market to a broad audience.
In addition to the concerns described above, physicians should be aware of the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act (HIPAA) privacy laws when engaging in social media. Even an inadvertent disclosure of a patient’s protected health information through a social media outlet can be problematic. A Rhode Island physician recently had her hospital privileges revoked and was reprimanded by her state’s medical board for writing about her clinical experiences on Facebook. Even though the physician had no intention of revealing confidential patient information, one of her Facebook posts revealed just enough detail to allow others in the community to identify a specific patient.