VC Notes Archive Office of the Vice Chancellor
Friday, November 11, 2016

The Pleasures and Perils of Social Media

Published in VC's Notes on November 11, 2016

The Pleasures and Perils of Social Media

Good morning!

Well, the election is finally over and I think most people would agree it had a surprise ending.  We congratulate President-elect Donald J. Trump and hope that under his leadership our country can make progress on some of the important issues it faces.  The future of our national health care system seems very much “to be determined,” so we will be watching that closely.

One aspect of this election cycle that stands out to me is the extent to which social media is a major outlet for people to gather information about candidates and engage in dialogue about issues important to them.  Quick and free-flowing ideas and a never-ending news cycle are now commonplace in our culture.  Who, like me, woke up Wednesday morning and picked up the phone to see the final results?  It's just so easy.

And that leads me to the topic I want to touch on today - social media.

The Medical Center supports your personal use of social media, especially when engaging with our own institutionally affiliated accounts (including my own Twitter account), but there are restrictions that each UMMC employee and student must abide by.

Each year during annual compliance training, each of us becomes reacquainted with the UMMC Personal Use of Social Media Policy (which can be found on the intranet here.) This spells out certain rules that each of us agrees to follow as a part of our association with this institution.

However, there are other standards that we must adhere to in order to stay as professional in our social media environment as we would in our work environment. At the top of that list are the regulations protecting patient privacy through HIPAA.  Each of us, whether working in the clinical setting or otherwise, has an enormous responsibility to protect the health information of our patients.  We should take this responsibility very seriously, as an institution and as individuals.

Recent changes to HIPAA regulations make anyone who breaches a person's protected health information potentially personally liable.  You will be included, by name, in the report filed to the Office for Civil Rights reporting a potential HIPAA violation.  As a general rule, social media and work are a dangerous combination. And for goodness' sake, if you are thinking of taking a picture while at work, it's best you reconsider that idea and put your phone away. Taking pictures while at work, especially in clinical settings, is a recipe for disaster.VC Notes Social Media 1

But most of your social media use isn't at or about work. The focus is more on things that are personal or interest you, like your family or favorite team or where you're eating for dinner. This use of your own personal social media is exactly what it was created for: engaging with people and groups you choose to surround yourself with. However, as social media use grows and the technology becomes easier and more ingrained in our everyday lives, there appears to be less forethought into the potential widespread effects of what we are sharing, and how it could impact us personally.

A few recent incidents involving our employees' use of social media have increased questions of what is acceptable.  A couple months ago, a group of nurse managers met with Public Affairs, Compliance and Human Resources representatives to discuss their concerns and questions about using social media.  One question dominated:  “How do we stay out of the gray area?”  You know, that middle ground where you're not sure if what you're doing is okay or not.  “Should you post it, or delete it and move on?”  “Is this an okay item for me to share?” “Will I get in trouble if my boss sees this?”  And other questions that are almost impossible to fully list and answer directly. So, I'd like to share with you a few tips developed by Public Affairs, Compliance and HR to help you stay out of this “gray area.”

  • Check the privacy settings of each of your social media accounts.  Make sure you know how the content you share can be seen and by whom. But remember, even the tightest social media settings don't guarantee that anything you post, whether on your own account or another account, won't be made public. You should consider everything you do on social media as being posted for the whole world to see.
  • You are always a representative of your employer.  Everything you do, public or private, is a reflection of the Medical Center.  It's good to consider this before posting something.  Is what you are about to post in direct conflict with the values and reputation of UMMC?
  • Before making any post on social media, including an original post or tweet or making a reply or comment, consider these Five P's of Social Media Use:

Public - If you consider everything you post on social media to be public, are you okay with anyone seeing what you are about to share?

Personal - Would you consider what you are about to share a good representation of you personally? Is the content in your post a reflection of who you really are and how you really feel? And if it is, are you going to be okay with everyone knowing this is how you feel?

Professional - Beyond the rules set forth in the UMMC Social Media Policy and federal law, each of us has a set of professional standards that we should operate under. Is what you are about to post a good representation of UMMC or your profession? Would you consider it professional behavior?

PHI - I covered this earlier, but it's worth repeating. We must all strive to protect the privacy of our patients with the same vigor we would use to protect our own information or that of our loved ones. If you're unsure if what you are posting is a HIPAA violation, then don't post anything. The question to ask yourself is, “How do I know this information?” If you only know something, or someone, because of your job, then it's likely that it or they should not show up on your social media.

And lastly, remember to Pause.  Before you hit send, enter, submit, tweet or whatever - stop, think.  Are you sure you want to put this information out there?  Reflect on the material and make sure you're comfortable with its content.  Sometimes the best option is to hit delete and put your phone in your pocket.

The line between being engaging, being friendly or operating within the rights of free speech on the one hand and a violation or something that could get you in trouble on the other is not clear-cut. A grey area does exist.  So, I want to leave you with this:  Always err on the side of caution.  Protect yourself.  

Social media is here to stay.  It's best if each of us makes sure to use this amazing, informative and fun tool properly, within the confines of professional standards, policies and law, as we work on building A Healthier Mississippi.       

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