As social media use in dentistry evolves, questions, quandaries, and unfortunately legal risks grow too. I recently had the pleasure of presenting alongside the brilliant Dr. Michael R. Ragan, D.M.D, J.D., LLM, attorney and dentist. Dr. Ragan presented on legal considerations in social media and I presented on social media marketing.
Below is my interpretation of tips I heard from Dr. Ragan’s excellent presentation. To clarify, I am not an attorney, nor am I qualified to give legal advice.
1) Informed consent – Signed consent must be given by patients before using the patient’s name, photo, video, x-ray, image, etc. online and in social media. Consent forms are legal documents. Dr. Ragan suggested that practices ask their local, state, or national dental associations for direction on where to access consent forms. Or check with your legal counsel for advice.
2) Negative reviews – When it comes to online reviews and comments, be sure to adhere to HIPAA regulations. Dr. Ragan said, “Don’t wrestle with a pig in the mud. You’ll get dirty and the pig likes it.” In general ignore responding to negative reviews or comments, otherwise you risk igniting more issues.
3) Team policies – Implement policies for your team—this includes employee policies or handbooks regarding employees use of social media. Train employees about the importance of HIPAA and social media.
4) Privacy settings – If you are going to participate in social media on a personal level, you need to commit to keep up with changes in order to maintain as much privacy as possible. Social media tools are very dynamic and it’s up to you to be informed.
5) Professionalism – We leave a permanent footprint with our social media. Even if you delete posts, screenshots happen. A JAMA 2011 study of Physician’s Professionalism on Twitter revealed numerous unprofessional tweets including potential patient privacy violations, profanity, and sexually explicit posts. The public, and your future, is watching so think twice before you post.
There were several other important questions raised during our discussion—stay tuned for updates as I learn of them. It seems the law, associations, and leadership in general will need to keep informed of the way our profession uses social media, how it impacts our patients, and what we need to do to comply with regulations. At the same time, let’s not forget social media’s powerful ability to improve communication and enhance relationships with patients, colleagues and business partners.
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