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Can Your Facebook Postings Get You Fired?

Social networking is everywhere. The communication is instantaneous, detailed and available for all to see — and it can be used for both personal and professional purposes. Healthcare workers, for example, can use it to learn about the latest best practices as quickly as they occur. However, social networking can also blur the line between professional and private lives and, if used incorrectly, can present great risks to your career.

Possible HIPAA Violations

In 1996, the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act (HIPAA) required the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) to adopt national standards for electronic health care transactions and national identifiers for providers, health plans, and employers. While such actions were not designed to impact personal communication, healthcare professionals must be aware of the potential for overlap in regards to social comments about their job or their workplace

Specifically, HIPAA regulations require that caregivers maintain the confidentiality of all patients. There are significant financial sanctions for failing to comply with HIPAA regulations and, in recent years, several healthcare professionals have faced serious repercussions for discussing patient issues online. In many cases, the intentions were good — to find the best way to treat a condition — but the outcome sometimes resulted in patients being identified from the information presented. In addition to HIPAA violations, these actions violated facility policy by discussing patient issues in a non-work environment.

In more extreme cases, healthcare professionals have used their cell phones to take photos of patient X-rays and other materials in order to share them outside of the work environment. This is also a potential HIPAA violation and a severe violation of facility policy which usually results in termination. As new technology gives rise to new and faster ways to communicate, the message is clear: healthcare organizations take potential HIPAA violations seriously and have policies in place to take action to protect the organization and its patients.

Workplace Grievances

Is it possible to be fired for making disparaging remarks about your job supervisor or organization online? The answer is yes, if it violates policies of the organization. An email security firm known as Proofpoint noted in a 2010 study that 20 percent of companies surveyed had investigated the exposure of confidential, sensitive or private information via a post to a social networking site and seven percent of these companies have fired individuals for “behavior on sites like Facebook and LinkedIn.”

Keep in mind at all times that personal social networking pages can potentially be seen by others outside of your network of friends. In addition to possible sanctions by your current employer, future employers may look at postings on social sites as part of their hiring decision-making process.

Social networks and other online media provide great resources for both the personal and professional areas of life. Still, it is absolutely imperative that healthcare professionals be mindful of their responsibility to maintain the confidentiality of their patients. Even as technology changes the ways in which we communicate, responsibilities to patient care remain the healthcare industry’s number one concern.

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