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Aug 05

The Role of Social Media in Healthcare: Challenges

When it comes to social media, it is easy to acknowledge the benefits it brings to a practice. Through social media, practices are able to communicate with their patient base, provide educational materials, and market their services to a wide audience. We have already covered the benefits of social media in healthcare in depth, but we would be amiss if we completely to ignore the challenges. Challenges can come about when leveraging social media in a clinical setting. Let’s discuss.

Challenges of Social Media in Healthcare

Social media challenges are likely to be prevalent if platform limitations and “rules of engagement” are not understood or ignored. These challenges turn into problems if a practice does not recognize the limitations they have in a healthcare setting vs. running a personal profile. The following are challenges that healthcare practices utilizing social media may experience…

HIPAA Compliance

The challenge of HIPAA compliance is two-fold for many practices. First, providers and administrators have a growing fear that they will be hacked by cyber criminals. Also, they fear they will accidentally expose HIPAA information of a patient. Luckily for practices that are concerned with HIPAA compliance, HIPAA provides a list of social media guidelines for practices to follow. The following guidelines are taken directly from HIPAA Journal, please note this is not the full guide:

  • Develop clear policies covering social media use and ensure all employees are aware of how HIPAA relates to social media platforms
  • Train all staff on acceptable social media use as part of HIPAA training and conduct refresher training sessions annually
  • Provide examples to staff on what is acceptable – and what is not – to improve understanding

Now, it is important to be within the guidelines set forth from HIPAA. Also, it is important to acknowledge the common violations that practices experience with social media. Some of those violations include…

  • Failing to acquire written consent from patients before posting images and/or videos
  • Creating posts containing gossip about patients
  • Creating posts that could allow any patient to be identified through context clues
  • Posting images or photographs where patient PHI is visible within a healthcare facility
  • Sharing any form of media or copy within a private social media group

To prevent against viruses and utilize a strong antivirus software, update your system routinely. To protect against hacking, be sure to routinely change your passwords and make them difficult for hackers to crack. This means do not use your birthday, always use special characters (if allowed), and use a variety of capitalized and lower-cased letters. If the platform allows, you can also enable two-factor authentication when logging in.

Managing Social Media Content (and Professionalism)

When a practice decides to utilize social media, it has to be on a consistent basis. It is not a “one and done” engagement that can go by the wayside when schedules fill and the front office staff gets busy. This presents a challenge for many practices as it is an ongoing task that someone must commit to fulfilling. The frequency of the posts for your individual practice will depend on the relevant content your clinic has to share, the patient base you serve, and how involved you would like to be with your audience. A good rule of thumb is to post once a day during the week. Follow this, only if you have valuable content that benefits your audience. If you don’t have anything beneficial to post, skipping a day hurts no one.

Professionalism is another concern for many practices when it comes to utilizing social media. How do you maintain professionalism when using social media as a business? Individuals often view these platforms as less serious, childish, or even less “respectable.” The challenge here is to expand that mindset and flip your thinking. Ask yourself, “how many people can I reach with this platform that could benefit from the educational pieces my practice has to share?” Your practice’s social media page can be as serious and professional as the page admin chooses. If you are concerned, create social media guidelines that your practice abides by. From there, regularly check-in to ensure the rules for what is appropriate and what is not are followed.

Responding to Negative Reviews

In life, there will always be people who have something negative to say regardless of how careful, nice, and professional you are. On social media, this is no different. With that being said, depending on which platform you utilize, the reviews may be very visible and accessible to any visitors. The reviews left will, hopefully, be more positive than negative, but it is important to know how to respond to negative reviews when they happen.

As stated earlier, remaining professional and HIPAA compliant on your social media channels will, for the most part, keep you out of trouble. There may be times where people are offended by a comment made, or they were inconvenienced in some way at your practice. In this case, they may leave a negative review or respond sharply on a post. It is important, for this reason, to monitor the comments, likes, shares, and address negativity as it filters onto your page. If the concern needs to be addressed, do so privately through a message on the platform or through a phone call if it is a patient.

Refresh: Benefits of Social Media in Healthcare

Now, we have laid out challenges of social media in healthcare fairly in depth. In order to keep your practice safe on social media, legally and otherwise, it is important to know the drawbacks of these platforms. Before we move on from this blog, let’s remind you of the benefits of social media. Here is a quick reminder as to why social media is worth your practice’s time, energy, and commitment:

  • Free marketing tool for your practice (with a large audience)
    • Reminder: investment on social media into advertisement is not necessary
  • Easy way to disperse health education (from your practice or otherwise)
  • Updating your current client base on any closures, protocols, procedures, or staffing issues that may be taking place quickly

Both challenges and benefits exist when it comes to running a social media page for a medical practice. We believe the benefits outweigh the potential hurdles, especially if your practice prepares and creates a plan – what do you think?

Are you ready to learn more about Demandforce and practice marketing? Visit us at or call us at 800.624.8832.

About the author,
Savanna Adams

Savanna is the Marketing Communication Specialist at Henry Schein MicroMD. She schedules emails to clients, prospects, and VARs, manages social media accounts, performs SEO research, writes blogs and eBooks, and much more while helping to support the simple yet powerful MicroMD solutions.

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