The golden rule for Facebook posting in healthcare facilities

In this article, we're going to give you a few tips and one golden rule that should help you understand how to handle this sensitive issue.

I've been using Facebook more and more. It's become my social dashboard and connects me to my community. But as a healthcare professional, it's important to be aware of where Facebook is appropriate and where it is not appropriate.

As the author of this column, I'm also asked by lay people (people who aren't healthcare professionals) about how to think about Facebook when it comes to health and sharing.

In this article, I'm going to give you a few tips and one golden rule that should help you understand how to handle this sensitive issue. Let's start with the golden rule.

Facebook golden rule: Never share health information or pictures of someone else without their express permission.

That's it. Even if you feel bad for the suffering of a family member, or you want to share with other members of your family, that picture or private health information could get out to the wider Facebook community. So never, ever post unless you ask permission.

You have no right to "out" someone with regard to their health issues. That's a very difficult, personal decision, that each individual needs to make for his or herself.

Now, a few tips. First, if you're a medical professional working in a hospital, never, ever take pictures of patients and post them. Period. It doesn't matter whether or not you want to share, taking smartphone pictures of a patient is not just a violation of the patient's privacy, it could open an entire, huge can of HIPAA hurt on both you and your facility.

Don't post status messages about individual patients you're working with. Don't even use initials or cute nicknames. Think of Facebook as a completely separate entity that does not belong in the hospital environment.

Hospitals need to educate their employees about these practices as well. A year or so ago, I encountered a healthcare facility that simply banned all employees from having any social media presence online, whatsoever.

That's not practical. LinkedIn is a necessary professional networking resource, and even Facebook and Twitter are benign when used properly.

If I were to advise hospitals and other facilities of anything regarding a social media policy it would be this: educate. Educate on what's appropriate use and what's not appropriate use.

Posting information about your favorite knitting project is appropriate. Taking a smartphone picture of a patient knitting something amazing is not appropriate.

This stuff is not hard to explain, but it can be hugely important. When it comes to Facebook privacy issues, there are a bunch of driving forces: the patient's own privacy, the medical professional's reputation, and both the facility's reputation and exposure to regulatory punishment.

Once you walk through the doors of a facility, do not use the camera. Do not post about your patients. Do not post about your family or friends unless you have their permission.

It's not that hard to understand, is it?