Social Networking Policy for Your Ophthalmic Practice
Many ophthalmologists have begun to use social networking sites such as Facebook and Twitter to communicate not only with friends and family, but also to market to and network with patients and colleagues. To be sure, the explosion of these sites has been nothing short of spectacular. In just a few years, these two companies alone have amassed nearly 1 billion combined members. It is understandable that physicians would see this as a new way to reach patients with little or no up-front marketing costs.
Social networking sites provide a quick and convenient way to disseminate news about your life and your practice. Whether you want to announce a new procedure or drug offered by your practice, conduct a seminar to identify and educate candidates about procedures such as LASIK, or advertise special offers to entice new potential patients, social networking can help you spread the word quickly. In just a few minutes you can connect with hundreds, maybe even thousands of people in a very direct and personal way.
The casual “conversation” that makes social media sites appealing also present some potential threats that should be carefully managed by your practice. Items posted on a social networking site, even when the setting is private or membership is restricted, are usually considered “in the public domain” and could be considered an extension of your advertising or patient educational materials. Should a malpractice, employment practices, or general liability claim be filed against your practice, you can expect a plaintiff’s attorney to employ a team of “investigators” to obtain copies of your brochures, pamphlets, mailers, and consent documents. You should also expect they may dissect your web site and social networking pages to identify inflammatory or embarrassing statements or false, misleading or contradictory information. They may scour the web for any other “presence” you maintain online and there are services available that can locate previously posted, but since deleted, items as well.
In addition to malpractice exposures, medical practices may also be vulnerable to cyber bullying among employees, defamatory remarks by employees toward patients or physicians, or release of sensitive or private medical or financial information.
Because of the above exposures, some of which may or may not be covered by your insurance policies, you should develop a simple and clear protocol for staff regarding social media and advertising. Have employees sign a statement that they received the guidelines as part of their new employee orientation.
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5 Great Corporate Social Media Policy Examples
Here are some other things you can do quickly to reduce your risk.
Beware the Googling Plaintiff Attorney
Statements, photos, or other items that would embarrass or incriminate your practice, particularly if revealed during a deposition or trial, should be removed immediately. Personal or political attacks, emotional commentary or insults, religious or social intolerance, and contradictory statements could present difficult obstacles during the defense of an otherwise defensible claim. Do a thorough review of any online presence for both you and your practice.
Tip: Send reminder to staff about your medical practice social networking guidelines.
De-friend Social Networks
An ophthalmic practice should institute reasonable limits in order to effectively control employee’s behavior and professional demeanor while at work. It is best to restrict personal use of social networking sites during office hours, even when on breaks and during lunch periods. Making it more difficult for staff to quickly post comments “on the job” will reduce the likelihood of inappropriate or ill-advised comments. (There is still some ambiguity with regard to the right of employers to limit what an employee may say about the employer (or even, say, patients or co-workers) on personal social media while the employee is on personal time. You should, however, have a clear directive to staff that your practice will not tolerate inappropriate comments, of any kind, directed at coworkers, patients, vendors, or any other parties).
Tip: If you do not implement a formal set of guidelines, at the very least you should have a short list of social media “do’s and don’ts” and distribute to staff.
Don’t Fudge Your Facebook
If there is an official networking page developed for your practice, make sure there is a vetting process for anything that is posted. Basically, you should slow down the process to minimize errors and avoid inappropriate content. While this may seem antithesis to some who prefer social networking sites specifically because of the “immediacy” of the medium, professional ethics require you to act the same online as you would in other environments, by avoiding inappropriate comments or conduct.
Tip: Direct your marketing consultant to avoid “over the top” descriptions of the practice, exaggerations about your background, or omissions that would mislead the general public or current or potential patients. Refer to the AAO’s guidelines for ethical advertising.
3 other things you can do to monitor your exposures:
- Google the practice name and the names of the principle members including all physicians, health care extenders, and administrators in order to identify posted commentary.
- Install social networking applications that track “mentions” within sites such as Facebook or Twitter. They will inform you anytime the practice is mentioned. Some popular apps are Hootsuite, Twitterific, Boardreader, Blogpulse.
- Install tracking software on work computers so that you can monitor whether staff is following social media guidelines.