April 23, 2011

Friday Faux Pas: Physician Fired For Facebook Posting


Editor’s Note: This is part of an occasional series called Friday Faux Pas, which highlights missteps in social media by health-related organizations. We believe social media are overwhelmingly a force for good, but we’re not blind to potential problems. This series helps maintain the balance, and in looking at each faux pas we want to highlight how it might have been prevented and also how the organization responded. recently reported our latest faux pas involving a physician at Westerly Hospital in Rhode Island. This example proves that it's not always about showing pictures or even using a patient's name, it's about always being cautious.

The story is about a case in which a physician posted information regarding a trauma patient to her personal Facebook profile. The posting did not include the patient’s name, but the physician wrote enough that others in the community could identify the patient, according to the hospital and the Rhode Island state medical board. This blunder cost the physician her job even though she deleted her Facebook account shortly after the controversy began. This should be a reminder to all that what you post online rarely can be deleted!


This faux pas is yet another example of why proper and continual training in the use of social media tools is essential for all health care professionals. Divulging protected health information (PHI) is a serious offense and just because you don't share the name of the patient, doesn't mean you are in the clear!

Bradley H. Crotty, a physician at Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center who has studied the role of social media in health care is quoted in the article. He says, “I think we should all learn from [the Rhode Island case] and get to work on doing education and training in our hospitals to promote the professional use of social media."

When deciding what is appropriate to write online, Crotty also states, “err on the side of caution, because you can’t go the other way. We first have to put ourselves in the shoes of the patient we may be discussing and then reflect if what we’re saying is appropriate.’’

This would be a good time for you to review your organization's plans for training and educating staff on how to properly use social media.

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