What Are We Doing? An Interview on Forming Social Media Policy with Paul Anderson

By Griffin Jones

This is the eighth interview in a series that explores the implications of patient privacy and the effective use of digital media. This piece centers on the importance of forming a social media policy. Paul Anderson is director of risk management publications at ECRI Institute.

Paul A. Anderson

Paul A. Anderson

Jones: You don’t tell practices that they have to be on social media, but what do they need to consider?

Anderson: Your patients, colleagues, and even your competitors are using social media. You want to know what patients are saying. If it’s positive, you want to thank them and share that. If it’s negative, you want to be aware of what they’ve said. If you’re not participating in social media, you’re missing part of your constituency. If you’re not using it, they’re going to sail right past you. You’re not in the space where people are talking.

There is often worry from physicians about participating in that space where people are talking. What about the risk? What about privacy?

Providers have a lot of misconceptions and fears about HIPAA. And of course, there is cause for concern. You don’t want to identify a patient in any way without their authorization. It is much better to get patients to tell their own stories, because patients can tell their own story to whomever they want. Practices should consult someone who is experienced with HIPAA compliance. I also recommend thoroughly educating someone in the practice on compliance issues, and having that person in charge of advising the social media policy. That person can be the word of caution and help the practice be smart about what they are doing. The first thing an agency will look for when investigating a privacy complaint is to see if there was a policy in place. The second thing they’ll look for is, “did we teach anyone about it?”

Many fertility centers participate in social media, but have yet to put a policy in place. Where do they start?

They first have to identify their goals. “Are we just going to monitor or are we going to engage people? Who’s going to approve content? Who’s going to post? What is our voice? Is it formal and academic? Or informal and casual?” Depending on the size of the practice, an individual or a committee should be placed in charge of initiating and enforcing the policy. Someone needs to be in charge of posting, because if a practice has a social media account, but never posts anything, that doesn’t look very good. I’m in favor of being active by posting and promoting content. You only do that when you have a well-defined reason for doing that and goals to employ.

How should practices respond to negative reviews?

One first has to be aware of the risks. If the review is too hostile to address productively, it’s perfectly reasonable to just leave it alone. If it’s negative commentary, take that conversation offline. There’s a lot of high emotions. You don’t want to inflame the situation.  Your response may be as simple as, “We hear your concern. We value your feedback. We’d like to talk to you. Here’s our phone number.” You can get a sense pretty quickly if the situation is resolvable. If it’s not, you have to disengage and try to balance that with positive reviews.

How about responding to positive reviews?

It’s never bad to say thank you, or when someone’s said “thank you” to say “you’re welcome.” Keep it simple. You don’t want to say too much but you’ve got to engage. Social media is a marketing tool that isn’t one-way.

Who is a healthcare provider with an exemplary social media policy?

The folks at the Mayo Clinic really have one of the best social media presences in all of healthcare. They have a center for social media and educational boot camps and social media trainings for employees. They’re very active on social, you can follow them almost everywhere. Their policy and their practices in place are really great resources.

But how does a small fertility practice implement a good social media policy?

Whoever’s going to spearhead this initiative better know how to use social media. Familiarity with the platforms and their nuances is necessary in order to be able to use them to effectively communicate. Define why you are going to use social media, first. If you can articulate that clearly, that will drive the rest of your conversation.

Paul Anderson is the director of risk management publications at ECRI Institute, an independent, non-profit, research institute that works with all sizes of healthcare providers from single practitioners to large research hospitals. They help practices with risk, quality, and patient safety management. You can learn more about ECRI Institute and their services here