You mentioned unauthorized access. Beyond use of social media to disseminate patient information, what concerns are there and how might those be addressed?

It is essential for practices to monitor their electronic records to make sure unauthorized individuals are not accessing them. There have been many accounts of hospital employees looking at the medical records of celebrities – for example, when one of the Kardashians had a baby, many people unrelated to her care looked at her electronic records and all were fired.

The issue is not confined to celebrities. I remember a case that took place in a tiny rural town in which everyone knew everyone else. A group of teenagers used some type of synthetic drug at a party. Ten partygoers ended up in the hospital and 1 of them died. There were at least 30 hospital employees who accessed those records. My guess is they were not malicious, only concerned for their friends and neighbors. But they were all fired because of this.

What other privacy concerns might be unique to medical practices?

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Posting photographs of the practice can lead to some serious violations if a patient chart or any information with a patient’s name accidentally is caught in the picture. It can also be problematic if a patient is inadvertently photographed. In a recent case, an employee in a plastic surgeon’s office took a picture of a fellow employee who had a new hairstyle. What she didn’t realize was that there was a patient standing nearby who ended up being in the picture. The picture was subsequently posted on the employee’s personal Facebook. The patient somehow became aware of it and was none too happy that people had found out that she was going to a plastic surgeon.

Do you have any other advice for physicians?

None of these issues are terrible, intractable problems. They arise because practitioners are not aware of the shifting and rapidly expanding social media landscape. If you follow the guidelines and pay attention to potential issues that might arise, then with relatively little expense and effort, you can avoid a lot of these problems and benefit from the upsides of the digital age without the downsides.

It is also important to recognize that these issues do not only concern compliance but also patient safety. There are patients who are afraid to seek medical or mental health help because they are afraid their data or privacy will be compromised. People’s confidence in the integrity of your staff and strength of your cyber systems are an important part of building trust and enabling you to practice medicine.

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1.    PEW Research Center. Social Media Fact Sheet. February 5, 2018. Available at: Accessed: November 20, 2018.

2.    PEW Research Center. Social Media and the Workplace. June 22, 2016. Available at: Accessed: November 22, 2018.

3.    Cilliers FQ. The role and effect of social media in the workplace. Northern Kentucky Law Review. 2013;40(3):567-592.

4.    Federation of State Medical Boards. Model Guidelines for the Appropriate Use of Social Media and Social Networking in Medical Practice. Available at: Accessed: November 22, 2018.