MCSMN Blog

August 13, 2010

Friday Faux Pas

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Fear is a major barrier to adoption of social media. That’s especially true within health care. Among the common objections to openness:

  • “What if someone criticizes us on our blog?”
  • “What if an employee posts inappropriate material on Facebook?”
  • “What if our employees spend all their time on Facebook and YouTube, instead of doing their work?”

These fears are not irrational. But as we have seen in Dan Goldman’s posts here, here, here and here, they can be relieved with reasonable policies and appropriate training.

To overcome your anxieties and move to productive engagement in social media, you need to…

Face your fears

This post begins a weekly series in which I will examine examples of social media faux pas, literally “false steps.” I had thought about calling the series “Friday Follies” but while these may be examples of extreme foolishness, I didn’t like the connotation of humor inherent in that title. There’s nothing funny about these examples.

Here's the first Friday Faux Pas, courtesy of the Newark, New Jersey Star-Ledger:

Last month, Stony Brook University Medical Center in Long Island announced it was developing a revised ethics policy after a student posted a photo on Facebook of a classmate posing with a thumbs up next to a cadaver. The State University of New York Upstate Medical University in Syracuse also is updating its ethics curriculum after a former resident posted a snapshot of an exposed brain on Facebook.

Students’ use of social media sites is becoming an increasing concern, according to an anonymous survey of 78 U.S. medical schools published last year in the Journal of the American Medical Association. Nearly 60 percent of schools reported catching students posting unprofessional online content, including several blatant violations of patient confidentiality.

"It’s Facebook, Twitter, blogging, MySpace," said Lauren Hughes, president of the American Medical Student Association, a Virginia-based advocacy group. "Right now, institutions are dealing with this on an individual basis."

Discussion/Analysis:

The real problem in this case didn't begin with Facebook. The real problem is that medical students were taking inappropriate pictures and behaving unprofessionally. Posting the picture to Facebook only brought the misconduct to light. Social media platforms increase the cost of bad behavior.

The good news in this case is that it is prompting review of ethics guidelines in medical schools. The Mayo Clinic Center for Social Media also plans to collaborate with other organizations to develop model guidelines and policies, along with educational and training materials for employees and students. We will be sharing those with the community to help prevent problematic uses of social media in health care.

Accepting Nominations:

If you are aware of an example that fits the Friday Faux Pas theme, please send your nomination, including relevant links to the on-line stories. Include your analysis of the issue, too. It may be featured in a future post.

Parting Questions:

  1. With half a billion active monthly users of Facebook worldwide, what do you think are the odds that none of them will be your employees, students, patients or customers?
  2. Is it likely that none of them will have iPhones, Androids or other smart phones?
  3. Given what I expect are your answers to the first two questions, aren't you already at risk of a Friday Faux Pas, whether your organization is officially engaged in social media or not?

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