Caution: Social Media Risks Ahead

Caution: Social media risks ahead

Today, social media adoption by hospitals and health systems in the United States is nearly universal: 94 percent of hospitals and health systems have a Facebook page, 51 percent have a Twitter account and 99 percent use Yelp and Foursquare, according to a study published in the Journal of Medical Internet Research.

But for providers, social media can be a double-edged sword.

These applications offer providers countless opportunities for patient engagement, marketing and can enhance “the image and visibility of a medical center or hospital” in the community, according to P&T, a peer-reviewed journal for managed care and hospital formulary management. In one study cited in the journal, nearly 60 percent of potential patients surveyed indicated social media played a sizable role in the provider selection process. What’s more, these consumers said a hospital’s use of social media alone suggested it was more clinically advanced than the competition.

Still, while leveraging social media is a mainstream tactic in running any modern business, doing so poses numerous hazards, especially in healthcare. First, these tools pose countless risks for violations under federal and state privacy laws — even if they’re unintentional. According to a Journal of the American College of Cardiology study, it “is not uncommon to hear anecdotes about members of the health care team being terminated from their occupation on the basis of misuse of social media.”

“The Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act, which gives patients peace of mind to fully confide in their health care team without consequence, is important to remember when using social media,” the study’s authors wrote. “Many healthcare facilities and organizations have guidelines to help direct the medical community in the proper use of social media.”

Social media also has proven to be an imperfect yardstick when it comes to assessing clinical care. An Indiana University study released in September 2018 suggested there was only a partial relationship between patient feedback aggregated from social media and traditional measures of clinical care such as the federal government’s Hospital Compare website.


“Our results indicate that crowd-sourced ratings reflect measures of quality most easily observed, which is not all that matters in health care,” said Victoria Perez, one of the study’s researchers, in a statement. “While crowd-sourced sites may provide similar information to the government’s patient experience surveys, they are not a substitute for measures of clinical quality or patient safety.”

Taking protective measures

Implementing best practices can help providers limit the risks associated with social media. P&T suggests the following guidelines for keeping hospitals and health systems from running afoul of the law:

  • Removal of identifying information: “Clinical vignettes posted on social media concerning patients must have all personal identifying information and any revealing references removed.”
  • Don’t interact with patients: Healthcare providers “who interact with their patients on social media may be violating the patient-HCP boundary even if patients initiate the online communication.”

Interested in learning more about limiting the risks of social media at your facility? Let’s talk. Many providers consider social media to be a perpetual threat to their businesses, and for good reason: With hospitals today operating on the narrowest of margins, losing even one patient over poor customer service or a bad review is too many. Complicating matters, most healthcare organizations still use traditional surveys to track and monitor patient satisfaction metrics, putting them at a considerable disadvantage in terms of identifying service recovery opportunities.

New York-based Quality Reviews, Inc., provides a buffer for hospitals against social media risks, allowing them to ensure a higher level of service and limiting its impact by making it easy for patients to provide real-time feedback — and even easier for healthcare leaders to improve service based on this feedback. Utilizing real-time feedback, our service recovery and daily performance improvement tools help shift the focus onto the patient and promote a culture of service excellence.

We were founded by leading healthcare providers and entrepreneurs with a combined 30-plus years of clinical, healthcare administrative and technology building experience. Quality Reviews, Inc., builds proprietary software to help healthcare provider organizations capture and analyze real-time patient feedback to facilitate service recovery — and limit social media risks.

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