5 Tricks to Keep Compliant


HIPAA stands for the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act. It’s an overarching piece of laws referring to well being data in america.

When you manage social media for a healthcare organization, you’ve come to the best place. On this article, we clarify what HIPAA says about social media, go over frequent HIPAA violations, and share ideas for constructing a HIPAA-compliant social media technique.

What does HIPAA say about social media?

HIPAA does not explicitly say anything about social media. That’s because the standards were created before social media platforms existed. However, social media is subject to the Privacy Rule. The standards on disclosures of protected health information are particularly relevant.

Supply: CDC

Which means organizations lined by HIPAA can’t publish or share any protected well being data on social media with out the related particular person’s particular, written authorization.

Who is roofed by HIPAA social media guidelines?

Let’s dive somewhat deeper right here. First, who is roofed by HIPAA on social media?

Covered entities are:

  • Healthcare suppliers, like medical doctors, dentists, and pharmacies.
  • Well being plans, like HMOs and employer well being plans.
  • Healthcare clearinghouses, which course of well being data.

HIPAA additionally covers business associates of those lined entities. These are companions that require entry to well being data to carry out sure companies.

What data is roofed by HIPAA social media guidelines?

So, what’s a HIPAA violation on social media? First, let’s have a look at some definitions from the Code of Federal Regulations. They make clear what sorts of data are protected:

  • Well being data: “Pertains to the previous, current, or future bodily or psychological well being or situation of a person; the supply of well being care to a person; or the previous, current, or future fee for the supply of well being care to a person.”
  • Protected well being data is: “individually identifiable well being data … transmitted or maintained in any … kind or medium,” with a couple of exceptions for training and employment data and individuals who died greater than 50 years in the past.
  • And a designated record set contains: “any merchandise, assortment, or grouping of knowledge that features protected well being data.”

That’s rather a lot to parse. Let’s have a look at an easier definition of protected well being data (PHI) from the Medicare Learning Network. (MLN is a part of the Division of Well being and Human Companies.)

PHI contains:

  • “Widespread identifiers, equivalent to title, deal with, start date, and SSN
  • The affected person’s previous, current, or future bodily or psychological well being situation
  • Well being care you present to the affected person, and
  • The previous, current, or future fee for well being care you present to the affected person.”

Virtually something identifiable to a affected person in your data is protected by HIPAA. Importantly for social media, this contains photographs by which a affected person’s title, face, or different identifiable particulars are seen.

There are 18 particular identifiers “that might be used to determine the person or the person’s family members, employers, or family members.” None of those might be included on social media.

Well being data might be “de-identified.” This course of makes use of both knowledgeable dedication or the protected harbor technique. The protected harbor technique (elimination of identifiers) is the perfect method to forestall social media HIPAA violations.

HIPAA privacy rule de-identification methods

Supply: HHS

You will discover the total particulars of the identifiers on the HHS website.

Widespread HIPAA violations on social media

Posting affected person data with out authorization

You’ll by no means put up a affected person’s private well being data on social media. However you may wish to share a affected person testimonial. Or perhaps a case examine that features a affected person’s title for credibility.

To adjust to HIPAA, you want express written authorization from the related affected person. The problem is that HIPAA authorizations should give the affected person the right to revoke their authorization.

If a affected person revokes their authorization, you’ll be able to take away the social media put up from your personal channels. However what if another person has captured a screenshot and shared it elsewhere? When you put up affected person data on public social channels, you lose management of how that data will unfold.

Sharing affected person photographs or paperwork

Any time you share a photograph of your office or facility on social media, HIPAA violations needs to be entrance of thoughts.

The foreground may present a few your smiling staff or a brand new piece of apparatus. However what’s within the background? Are the faces of any sufferers or their members of the family seen? What about affected person charts, medical data, names, or different particulars on partitions or desks?

When you’re sharing an instance of your work, or of a situation or harm, it’s apparent to keep away from revealing the affected person’s face. However have you ever captured some other identifiable marks (e.g. tattoos or uncommon birthmarks)?

Responding to complaints or adverse critiques

Restaurant house owners have gone viral with cheeky replies to individuals who left undeserved adverse suggestions. However this isn’t a viable choice for these working in healthcare.

For instance, in 2022, the HHS Workplace for Civil Rights issued a $50,000 fine in opposition to a dental apply. That they had used a affected person’s full title in response to a grievance on the corporate’s Google business page. The unique grievance used a pseudonym.

Later that very same 12 months, HHS fined one other dental apply $23,000 and issued a corrective motion plan for comparable violations on Yelp.

Within the press launch for the latter case, OCR Director Melanie Fontes said:

“This newest enforcement motion demonstrates the significance of following the regulation even when you find yourself utilizing social media. Suppliers can’t disclose protected well being data of their sufferers when responding to adverse on-line critiques.”

Adverse critiques could sting, however a significant positive stings extra. Stay skilled. Preserve affected person data confidential, irrespective of how tempting it might be to name them out.

Sharing affected person data with an company

Do you’re employed with a third-party advertising company that can assist you with social media? You’ll want to take into account what data they’ve entry to. If they’ve entry to any private well being data, together with affected person photographs, you want them to signal a business associate agreement.

Creating customized audiences for social advertisements

Paid social is one other potential supply of social media HIPAA violations. For instance, you can not signal a enterprise affiliate settlement with Fb. Which means you can not add an inventory of affected person emails to create a custom audience for Facebook ads.

That doesn’t imply it’s a must to keep away from all focusing on on social. When you understand the characteristics of your target market, you should utilize these focusing on choices to succeed in the best audiences with social advertisements. You simply can’t use identifiable data from present sufferers within the course of.

Speaking via social messaging platforms

Through the COVID-19 pandemic, HHS provided flexibility on well being care communication channels. Nevertheless, that flexibility is scheduled to end on May 11, 2023.

When you’ve got been utilizing channels like Fb Messenger or WhatsApp to speak with sufferers, your technique wants to vary. You possibly can nonetheless talk nearly with sufferers, however it is advisable to use HIPAA-compliant solutions.

If you wish to use SMS, WhatsApp, or social messaging companies to ship appointment reminders, it is advisable to ship them with none PHI included.

Which means it is best to embody solely your apply title and the time of the appointment. You can’t embody the affected person title or the character of the appointment within the message. You additionally must get affected person authorization to speak utilizing textual content channels earlier than doing so. Even for appointment reminders.

What are the results of HIPAA violations on social media?

The results for a HIPAA violation rely upon the character of the violation and who dedicated it. For instance, the results are harsher for a violation on a hospital’s company account. A violation on the non-public account of a nurse who works at that hospital will probably be much less extreme.

Each group lined by HIPAA ought to have a sanctions coverage for violations. These would apply to a violation made by somebody who works on the group.

And for the group itself? A violation case that goes to the Well being and Human Companies Workplace for Civil Rights could lead to a significant monetary penalty. The utmost positive is $1.5 million.

things to keep in mind when you have a breach

Supply: National Consortium of Telehealth Resource Centers

Learn how to construct a HIPAA-compliant social media presence

1. Perceive the rules

HIPAA social media guidelines are tough to know particularly as a result of there aren’t any express HIPAA safety rules for social media. Instad, it is advisable to take your understanding of the HIPAA Privateness Rule and apply it to social media.

In brief, MLN specifies that you need to:

  • “Notify sufferers about their privateness rights and the way you employ their data
  • Undertake privateness procedures and prepare staff to observe them
  • Assign a person to ensure you’re adopting and following privateness procedures, and
  • Safe affected person data containing PHI in order that they aren’t available to those that don’t must see them.”

2. Prepare your staff

As famous above, coaching your staff is a required element of HIPAA compliance for social media. Which means your complete staff, not simply your social staff.

Virtually all staff inside a well being care setting have entry to a point of PHI. Which means any worker may expose your group to social media HIPAA violations.

Unintended social media HIPAA violation examples by your staff may embody:

  • a workers Instagram photograph that reveals a affected person’s face within the background, or
  • a put up in a Fb group a few movie star session or troublesome case.

3. Restrict entry to your social accounts

Limiting entry to your social accounts protects your group in opposition to posting content material that violates HIPAA social media guidelines. Everybody in your staff ought to perceive the fundamentals. However it is advisable to assign one or two key people who find themselves HIPAA social media consultants. They need to log out on content material earlier than posting.

Nevertheless, these consultants are doubtless at too excessive of a stage in your group to be chargeable for creating all of the social content material. Which means you want a system of workflows and approvals. Acceptable members of your social staff can create content material that’s then queued for approval by your HIPAA consultants.

Hootsuite has a built-in content material creation and approval process. You possibly can assign particular permissions for particular person staff members. You can even arrange approvals on responses to social feedback, which is a key space the place potential HIPAA violations can happen.

Hootsuite lets you revoke entry to your social accounts when somebody leaves your group or modifications roles. This helps guarantee compliance with HIPAA entry guidelines.

4. Create clear social media pointers

It’s important for any healthcare organization using social media to have a strong social media policy. The coverage wants to obviously define how HIPAA impacts social media. Embody some social media HIPAA violation examples to make the coverage clear.

The policy should have detailed requirements for posts made from your corporate social accounts. But you also need to create HIPAA social media guidelines for workers private accounts. HIPAA guidelines apply to the non-public accounts of healthcare staff.

Construct a system of HIPAA violation social media sanctions into the rules. This ensures staff perceive the repercussions of breaking the principles.

5. Implement a social monitoring program

Implement a social media monitoring program to observe for hashtags and key phrases related to your group. This is a crucial approach of understanding what’s being stated about your group on social media.

Most of the posts mentioning your group could come from sufferers or different people who find themselves not topic to HIPAA rules. However additionally it is a superb early-warning system for workers posts that unintentionally violate the principles.

You’re in a significantly better place in case you catch and resolve a disclosure of PHI on social media earlier than a grievance is filed.

FAQs about HIPAA and social media

Is turning into Fb mates with sufferers a violation of HIPAA?

It isn’t strictly talking a HIPAA violation to be Fb mates with a affected person. Nevertheless, it isn’t a really helpful apply. As a substitute, create a Facebook business page that your sufferers can observe for updates out of your apply.

Is following a affected person on social media a HIPAA violation?

Looking for out a affected person on social media utilizing their PHI (together with their title) could also be a HIPAA violation. It’s higher to keep away from private connections with sufferers on social media.

What data might be shared with out violating HIPAA?

You possibly can share “de-identified” data on social media with out violating HIPAA. Following the “protected harbor” technique, you need to take away all 18 identifiers from the data.

You can even share data not related to any affected person on social media. For instance, you may share:

  • wholesome residing ideas
  • workers profiles, or
  • updates about how your group helps the neighborhood.

Main healthcare suppliers, insurers, and life science firms worldwide use Hootsuite to enhance their buyer expertise, unify their social message, and guarantee compliance with business rules. See for your self why we’re the healthcare business’s main social media administration platform.

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