July 19, 2017

Social Media, Your Hospital and the Threat of Suicide: A Matter of Life, Death and Liability (Preview)

By Carol Vassar

Social media still has a “wild west” feel to it sometimes.

Wired’s Steve Levy recently described it this way:

“First, the thrilling feeling of possibilities — anything goes, and that means even the most febrile imagination cannot envision the opportunities in this virgin turf. (Second is) a scarier feeling that comes from the lawlessness of a territory too new for rules to be drawn.”

Carol Vassar

Healthcare, however, is not the land of the wild west. Healthcare processes, laws, regulations, policies, and procedures are a necessary part of ensuring the quality and safety of the care we provide to our patients.

In June 2015, I accepted the position as Hartford HealthCare’s first social media specialist. My job, as described at the time, was to tame the wild west that was (and is) social media for Hartford HealthCare.

I set about claiming and merging social media accounts; creating policies; finding and posting content; setting goals and objectives that align with those of the organization; and responding to comments and reviews in close to real time.

Some rules had yet to be drawn

But the rules had yet to be drawn for how to handle a threat of self-harm posted to one of our Facebook pages. Yet here it was before my eyes at 11 PM on a Friday evening in November 2015.

I froze momentarily. The weight of life-and-death was supposed to be on doctors and nurses. Having that kind of pressure and anxiety was a major reason I chose NOT to become a clinician in the first place.

In this moment, there were assets that worked in my favor, including an understanding (and calm) husband, a background in both public health and behavioral health marketing, and the availability of multiple phones and computers.

What I did not have was a policy or process on how best to proceed; yet proceed I did.

It was a healthcare “wild west” moment like no other in my career. The moment had arrived to act and do what was right. Would I be ready?

Will you?

Editor’s Note: Carol will present her case study ”Social media, your hospital and the threat of suicide: A matter of life, death and liability” at our 2017 Annual Conference December 11 and 12 in Scottsdale Arizona. Read the details. Join us!

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