Oversharing on Social Media: When Medical Professionals Violate HIPAA

Posted by Joseph D. Lento | Apr 24, 2023 | 0 Comments

It's one of the modern pitfalls of our times. As with other professions, an increasing number of doctors, nurses, and other health professionals feel pressured to increase their public profile by posting on social media. Some even maintain their own "channels" on YouTube or Instagram by posting educational info or even streaming certain procedures live. As a result, one issue that has become increasingly prevalent in the digital age is the sharing of patient information on social media platforms. How much can you actually share online without violating patient HIPAA protections? And what happens if that line gets crossed, even inadvertently? Let's discuss this issue more in-depth.

What Constitutes a HIPAA Violation on Social Media?

HIPAA regulations govern the handling and disclosure of protected health information (PHI), which includes any information that can be used to identify an individual and is related to their healthcare services. Sharing PHI on social media without obtaining proper authorization from the patient constitutes a HIPAA violation. This can include sharing images, videos, or even text-based descriptions of a patient's medical condition, treatment, or other identifiable information.

It is important to note that even seemingly innocuous posts that do not explicitly mention a patient's name can still lead to a HIPAA violation if there is enough information in the post for others to identify the patient--and this is where health professionals can get into trouble.

The Fallout from HIPAA Violations

The standard consequences of violating HIPAA are fairly straightforward and may include both civil penalties (both from the state and the patient) and sometimes even criminal charges. But what about the possible fallout for your career in general? Some possible consequences to be prepared for:

  • Disciplinary action against your license. State medical licensing boards take HIPAA violations very seriously. If your licensing board becomes aware that your social media behavior has crossed the lines of patient privacy, or if someone files a complaint against you for your social media practices, you could face possible disciplinary action ranging from a reprimand or fine to even suspension or revocation of your license.
  • Termination of employment. If you're employed at a healthcare facility, violating HIPAA will likely lead to discipline or a quick dismissal. (Healthcare facilities don't want to be liable for your actions, either.)
  • Damaged reputation. Here's where oversharing on social media can backfire. The perception of you as an ethical health professional could be tarnished due to your violation of HIPAA, and this damage may extend beyond the specific medical community in which you work.

Best Practices to Avoid HIPAA Violations on Social Media

To minimize the risk of HIPAA violations on social media, healthcare professionals should adhere to the following best practices:

  • Familiarize yourself with HIPAA regulations. Ensure that you have a thorough understanding of HIPAA and its implications for your professional practice.
  • Implement a clear social media policy. Establish a clear and concise social media policy for your practice or workplace that outlines the do's and don'ts for sharing information online.
  • Obtain proper authorization. If you ever need to share PHI on social media, ensure that you have obtained the patient's written consent and that the information shared complies with HIPAA requirements.
  • Maintain professional boundaries. Refrain from engaging in discussions about patients or sharing patient-related information on personal social media accounts.
  • Think before you post. Always think carefully about the content you share on social media and consider whether it could potentially lead to a HIPAA violation.

If Your License Is Jeopardized Over a Social Media/HIPAA Violation...

If a HIPAA violation is threatening your license to practice, you need an experienced professional license defense attorney to protect your interests and help you navigate the disciplinary process. Attorney Joseph D. Lento and his Professional License Defense Team can provide experienced assistance to health professionals nationwide who are under scrutiny by their respective licensing boards. Call the Lento Law Firm at 888-535-3686 today to discuss your case.

About the Author

Joseph D. Lento

"I pride myself on having heart and driving hard to get results!" Attorney Joseph D. Lento has unparalleled experience fighting for the futures of his professional clients nationwide. With unparalleled experience occupying several roles in the justice system outside of being an attorney, Joseph D. Lento can give you valuable behind-the-scenes insight as to what is happening during all phases of the legal process. In the courtroom and in life, attorney Joseph D. Lento stands up when the bell rings!


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