Social media is becoming more and more relevant in how consumers make buying decisions. It’s great for marketing and for your dental practice to really engage with patients and potential patients on a personal level. However, using social media could put you in danger of violating HIPAA regulations. If you choose to interact with current and prospective patients through social media, you should know how to comply with HIPAA and educate your staff about compliance and the risks of non-compliance. Let’s get to it!
Complying With HIPAA in the Social Media Age
HIPAA exists to protect patient privacy. However, privacy becomes difficult to define in this age of social media, where it seems everyone shares their personal lives so freely. There are a few things you can do to ensure that you follow HIPAA guidelines when you and your employees are using social media:
- Restrict anyone from discussing patients online, even if they do not mention any names.
- Create a consent form so patients can give you written permission to use their images/likeness online.
- Do not allow unauthorized employees to take photos or videos at work (they could unintentionally share sensitive information).
- Assume that everything shared online is seen by everyone.
Train Your Employees Properly
As a dental small business owner, you already understand the importance of complying with HIPAA guidelines. Your employees, however, may not fully understand HIPAA compliance. This makes training crucial to protect your practice.
After providing basic HIPAA training, encourage employees to think about what they have learned by having them evaluate real-world situations. For instance, you might create a situation in which a dental assistant mentions online that her boyfriend came in for a cleaning that afternoon. Then you would ask employees whether doing so violated HIPAA guidelines.
The more examples you provide, the more likely everyone will understand how to stay in compliance. Also, make sure that each trainee participates. If one person doesn’t understand the training, it could cause problems for the whole practice.
Understand the Repercussions
The penalties for violating HIPAA guidelines are potentially severe. Civil penalties can cost anywhere from $100 to $1.5 million. Your practice may also face criminal charges that can lead to prison terms up to 10 years long and fines costing as much as $250,000.
In addition to these repercussions, a patient might sue the practice. If that happens, a judge will then decide whether the patient deserves financial compensation and what amount is appropriate.
Social media can make it more difficult for dentists and their employees to follow HIPAA guidelines. With the right understanding and training, you can stay in line with the law and avoid harsh repercussions.