Social Media and Your Patient’s Security: Know the Risks

Perception of Social Media Sites, US Adults

In our last post we talked about Harris Poll results showing that American consumers trust medical providers with their personal information more than they do professionals in almost any other sector.

While this is an encouraging sign for our industry, it also points to the fragility of consumer trust when it comes to data security. In particular, providers of behavioral health services need to ensure that patient data remains secure.

The main goal is so that patients continue to know they can trust in their relationship with those providing such care. One area to examine carefully in this context is social media, and the way it is used by both medical professionals and their patients.

Should Providers Interact with Patients on Social Media?

Sensitivity to patient concerns about the security of their personal information suggests that medical and behavioral health professionals exercise great caution if they are going to interact with their patients on social media sites.

In addition, providers should ensure that social media accounts they set up for personal reasons use a name that is not easily searchable by those outside their personal circle, and maintain acute awareness of individuals’ identities added to those private accounts.

Many providers may want to establish two types of accounts: one for private use and one for professional use. In this case, the account designated for professional use should be much more easily found and contain only professionally relevant information.

Less Secure Modes of Communication Should Be Used With Caution

In the digital era, modes of communication such as text and email have become a very popular and convenient way for patients and doctors to communicate with one another.

These methods of communicating are not always secure, however, and medical advice or conversations about a patient’s condition should be conducted in this way only with the express consent of a patient.

High Standards for New Technology

A similar Harris Poll found that only 49% of Americans believe that existing laws and organizational practices provide a reasonable level of protection for consumer privacy today.

Just as companies contracted for services like third party cloud storage should be expected to meet a high level of security needs, emerging technology should be thoroughly tested and questioned before it is adopted as part of a regular practice.

Innovations like a smart phone app that allows patients to address minor problems through video visits may save time, but they may also put a patient at risk for having important information leaked if they are not thoroughly secure.

Digital innovations certainly carry with them a number of ways in which the doctor/patient relationship can be improved, but these advances must be met with some caution if the medical profession is to continue enjoying its place as the sector most trusted by the American people.