As the pandemic continues to strain the healthcare system and misinformation about COVID-19 circulates, hospitals are--on top of everything else--wrestling with another problem: confidentiality and unsanctioned behavior in digital spaces. As hospitals have been thrust into the spotlight this year, it is more important than ever for hospitals and other healthcare providers to have rigorous programs for managing HIPAA violations as well as other toxic behavior in the digital sphere.
While a hospital may already maintain high standards of confidentiality and integrity at the workplace, the same standards must extend to social media as well. The easiest way to ensure that employees are maintaining compliance is to create an infrastructure that centers around a robust social media policy. Here’s what we mean.
Policy is the backbone of a safer, more accountable work environment
For healthcare providers, a trustworthy, confidential information system and working environment are of utmost importance to maintaining patient trust. HIPAA compliance forms the backbone of a safe and trusting working environment for patients, healthcare staff, and administrators alike, but is that enough? Despite rigorous enforcement of HIPAA policy, firing stories involving hospital employees disclosing HIPAA-protected information or making disparaging remarks still pop up in local news outlets, causing public relations headaches for hospitals across the nation. Furthermore, the increasingly dire circumstances of healthcare workers in hospitals due to the COVID-19 pandemic has caused some nurses to take to social media to communicate the gravity of their scenarios, compromising confidential patient and hospital data in the process. A social media policy is necessary to underscore the importance of confidentiality and integrity in the workplace.
However, the scope of a policy extends beyond simply setting and enforcing a series of industry-regulated requirements. It’s an ethical document that has the power to address and influence the culture of a work environment--from HIPAA compliance and data security to broader standards of professional conduct like integrity, compassion, tolerance, and inclusion. The key to integrating a social media clause is to include company values on top of HIPAA compliance. Understanding that a policy not only protects patients’ healthcare data, it also serves to protect staff members and their families as well.
Consistency + Policy + Documentation = Actionable
As healthcare providers are well aware, the best way to maintain a robust policy is to ensure it is implemented democratically and with consistency. For a social media policy to reach peak efficacy, consistency in enforcement is of utmost importance. Not only does that standardize the process, but it also encourages an internal culture of integrity and accountability, which in turn creates a better precedent that potentially attracts a better talent pool. Just as doctors are held to standards of care, it is integral for staff to be held to values-driven policies as caretakers of the community.
So how can policy be actionable? First, we like to say that consistency plus policy and documentation equals an actionable process. An actionable policy for education defines the nature of social media posts, clearly states what is not permissible--including non-HIPAA-related codes of conduct for digital spaces--and outlines consequences and disciplinary processes for violations. Is it ever appropriate to post photos of the workplace, even if patients or patient information may not be present? Is it ever appropriate to talk about hospital work on social media? What about the charged language?
Documentation may be the trickiest part of this process. For a social media policy to function efficiently, a healthcare provider must ensure that hundreds, sometimes thousands, of employees are acting appropriately across a multiplicity of digital spaces. To make matters more complex, the prolonged pandemic and increasingly stressful working conditions have contributed to a spike of social media firing stories (see here and here). In a moment where healthcare providers are fighting hard to maintain standards of care on top of dispelling an onslaught of myths about the virus, hospitals must be crystal clear about their expectations from employees in the digital sphere.
How can a large healthcare provider afford to get out in front of a violation of policy, especially when violations could risk the confidence of hundreds of patients, and at this moment, the general public?
Enter social media screening, one of the most efficient ways to leverage web and social data to maintain school policy at each stage of the employee lifecycle. By utilizing a social media screening service, a hospital can easily screen candidates as a prerequisite for employment as well as oversee current employee’s public social data for intolerance, violence, sexual harassment, or other custom healthcare-related concerns.
Infrastructure is the key to a smooth, repeatable process
For a healthcare provider to effectively outsource their screening needs to a third-party screening service, their social media policy must be backed up by an infrastructure that emphasizes efficiency and repeatability, on top of maintaining compliance. As with traditional screening procedures, a healthcare provider must first be able to demonstrate permissible purpose and comply with procedures determined by the FCRA. This process includes providing disclosures and authorization to all persons to be screened, producing a plan to take adverse action, fielding consumer disputes and reinvestigations, and reasonable policies and procedures concerning accuracy. With the right tools, a social media policy can be a powerful mechanism for maintaining the security of patient and hospital data as well as managing inappropriate behavior for a safer, healthier working environment for staff members and patients alike.
- Download our eBook on screening for educators for more tips.
- Check out this case study examining the effects of social media screening in a healthcare institution.
Still have questions? We’d love to walk you through the basics.