Physician Assistants, Practices, and Social Networks: Gauging the Risks

As medical practices react to the growing market pressures to grow and/or maintain their patient populations, many are embarking upon an entry into the world of social networks.  While such environments may hold great reward for many businesses, they also hold many concerns and risks unique to physician assistants and their medical practices.  

  

A “Social Network” is defined by dictionary.com as an online service, platform or site wherein “family, friends and their families, that together create an interconnected system through which alliances are formed, help is obtained, information is transmitted, and strings are pulled. In an organizational setting, it usually constitutes the group of one’s peers, seniors, and subordinates who provide information on how to get things done, how the power structure operates, and who holds the strings.”

 

The number of social networks continues to grow exponentially every day and a social network heavily favored one moment may quickly find itself an afterthought or viewed as outdated the next moment.  Examples of social networks are illustrated in the chart below:

 

Seemingly attractive, an increasing number of healthcare providers interacting within social media are creating some notable, and dire, consequences. It has been alleged that a large number of healthcare students have admitted to using the forums inappropriately to discuss individual patients. Other recent incidents have involved a member of a medical office staff posting entries on Facebook and/or Twitter complaining about “difficult” patients.

 

Before any practice contemplates their entry into this new, ever evolving environment, they should consider certain preemptive risk management factors before doing so, such as:

                •             Is the practice prepared to devote ongoing time and capital to this environment?

                •             Is the practice prepared to vigorously monitor the information posted in response?

                •             Is the practice committed to routinely updating the information posted?

Absent positive responses to the above noted factors medical practices would be better served to withhold their entry in the realm of social media until such time as they are prepared to provide a strong commitment to the demands of social networking.  Absent such a commitment, a partial or half-hearted effort will only leave the practice exposed to not only potential liabilities but adverse internet “standing”.

 

If the practice decides to engage in social networking, a large degree of advance planning and the assigning of structural responsibilities must be considered, such as:

                •             Who creates the data to be entered?

                •             Who physically (and routinely) enters the data within the network (and updates the data)?

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