HIPAA stands for the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act. It’s an overarching piece of laws referring to well being info in america.

In case you manage social media for a healthcare organization, you’ve come to the fitting place. On this article, we clarify what HIPAA says about social media, go over frequent HIPAA violations, and share ideas for constructing a HIPAA-compliant social media technique.

What does HIPAA say about social media?

HIPAA does not explicitly say anything about social media. That’s because the standards were created before social media platforms existed. However, social media is subject to the Privacy Rule. The standards on disclosures of protected health information are particularly relevant.

FERPA and HIPAA compliance rules

Supply: CDC

Meaning organizations coated by HIPAA can’t publish or share any protected well being info on social media with out the related particular person’s particular, written authorization.

Who is roofed by HIPAA social media guidelines?

Let’s dive a bit deeper right here. First, who is roofed by HIPAA on social media?

Covered entities are:

  • Healthcare suppliers, like medical doctors, dentists, and pharmacies.
  • Well being plans, like HMOs and employer well being plans.
  • Healthcare clearinghouses, which course of well being info.

HIPAA additionally covers business associates of those coated entities. These are companions that require entry to well being info to carry out sure companies.

What info is roofed by HIPAA social media guidelines?

So, what’s a HIPAA violation on social media? First, let’s take a look at some definitions from the Code of Federal Regulations. They make clear what kinds of info are protected:

  • Well being info: “Pertains to the previous, current, or future bodily or psychological well being or situation of a person; the availability of well being care to a person; or the previous, current, or future fee for the availability of well being care to a person.”
  • Protected well being info is: “individually identifiable well being info … transmitted or maintained in any … kind or medium,” with a number of exceptions for training and employment data and individuals who died greater than 50 years in the past.
  • And a designated record set contains: “any merchandise, assortment, or grouping of data that features protected well being info.”

That’s rather a lot to parse. Let’s take a look at an easier definition of protected well being info (PHI) from the Medicare Learning Network. (MLN is a part of the Division of Well being and Human Providers.)

PHI contains:

  • “Frequent identifiers, similar to title, deal with, beginning date, and SSN
  • The affected person’s previous, current, or future bodily or psychological well being situation
  • Well being care you present to the affected person, and
  • The previous, current, or future fee for well being care you present to the affected person.”

Virtually something identifiable to a affected person in your data is protected by HIPAA. Importantly for social media, this contains pictures during which a affected person’s title, face, or different identifiable particulars are seen.

There are 18 particular identifiers “that could possibly be used to establish the person or the person’s family, employers, or family members.” None of those might be included on social media.

Well being info might be “de-identified.” This course of makes use of both knowledgeable dedication or the secure harbor methodology. The secure harbor methodology (removing of identifiers) is the very best method to forestall social media HIPAA violations.

HIPAA privacy rule de-identification methods

Supply: HHS

Yow will discover the total particulars of the identifiers on the HHS website.

Frequent HIPAA violations on social media

Posting affected person info with out authorization

You’d by no means submit a affected person’s private well being data on social media. However you would possibly wish to share a affected person testimonial. Or possibly a case research that features a affected person’s title for credibility.

To adjust to HIPAA, you want express written authorization from the related affected person. The problem is that HIPAA authorizations should give the affected person the right to revoke their authorization.

If a affected person revokes their authorization, you’ll be able to take away the social media submit from your individual channels. However what if another person has captured a screenshot and shared it elsewhere? When you submit affected person info on public social channels, you lose management of how that info will unfold.

Sharing affected person pictures or paperwork

Any time you share a photograph of your office or facility on social media, HIPAA violations ought to be entrance of thoughts.

The foreground would possibly present a few your smiling staff or a brand new piece of kit. However what’s within the background? Are the faces of any sufferers or their relations seen? What about affected person charts, medical data, names, or different particulars on partitions or desks?

In case you’re sharing an instance of your work, or of a situation or damage, it’s apparent to keep away from revealing the affected person’s face. However have you ever captured some other identifiable marks (e.g. tattoos or uncommon birthmarks)?

Responding to complaints or detrimental evaluations

Restaurant house owners have gone viral with cheeky replies to individuals who left undeserved detrimental suggestions. However this isn’t a viable possibility for these working in healthcare.

For instance, in 2022, the HHS Workplace for Civil Rights issued a $50,000 fine towards a dental follow. They’d used a affected person’s full title in response to a criticism on the corporate’s Google business page. The unique criticism used a pseudonym.

Later that very same 12 months, HHS fined one other dental follow $23,000 and issued a corrective motion plan for related violations on Yelp.

Within the press launch for the latter case, OCR Director Melanie Fontes said:

“This newest enforcement motion demonstrates the significance of following the regulation even when you’re utilizing social media. Suppliers can’t disclose protected well being info of their sufferers when responding to detrimental on-line evaluations.”

Damaging evaluations might sting, however a serious fantastic stings extra. Stay skilled. Maintain affected person info confidential, regardless of how tempting it could be to name them out.

Sharing affected person info with an company

Do you’re employed with a third-party advertising company that can assist you with social media? You want to contemplate what info they’ve entry to. If they’ve entry to any private well being info, together with affected person pictures, you want them to signal a business associate agreement.

Creating customized audiences for social advertisements

Paid social is one other potential supply of social media HIPAA violations. For instance, you can’t signal a enterprise affiliate settlement with Fb. Meaning you can’t add an inventory of affected person emails to create a custom audience for Facebook ads.

That doesn’t imply you need to keep away from all concentrating on on social. In case you understand the characteristics of your target market, you should use these concentrating on choices to achieve the fitting audiences with social advertisements. You simply can’t use identifiable info from present sufferers within the course of.

Speaking by means of social messaging platforms

Through the COVID-19 pandemic, HHS supplied flexibility on well being care communication channels. Nevertheless, that flexibility is scheduled to end on May 11, 2023.

When you have been utilizing channels like Fb Messenger or WhatsApp to speak with sufferers, your technique wants to vary. You may nonetheless talk just about with sufferers, however you must use HIPAA-compliant solutions.

If you wish to use SMS, WhatsApp, or social messaging companies to ship appointment reminders, you must ship them with none PHI included.

Meaning it’s best to embody solely your follow title and the time of the appointment. You can not embody the affected person title or the character of the appointment within the message. You additionally have to get affected person authorization to speak utilizing textual content channels earlier than doing so. Even for appointment reminders.

What are the implications of HIPAA violations on social media?

The results for a HIPAA violation depend upon the character of the violation and who dedicated it. For instance, the implications are harsher for a violation on a hospital’s company account. A violation on the private account of a nurse who works at that hospital shall be much less extreme.

Each group coated by HIPAA ought to have a sanctions coverage for violations. These would apply to a violation made by somebody who works on the group.

And for the group itself? A violation case that goes to the Well being and Human Providers Workplace for Civil Rights might end in a serious monetary penalty. The utmost fantastic is $1.5 million.

things to keep in mind when you have a breach

Supply: National Consortium of Telehealth Resource Centers

How one can construct a HIPAA-compliant social media presence

1. Perceive the laws

HIPAA social media guidelines are tough to know particularly as a result of there are not any express HIPAA safety laws for social media. Instad, you must take your understanding of the HIPAA Privateness Rule and apply it to social media.

In brief, MLN specifies that you need to:

  • “Notify sufferers about their privateness rights and the way you employ their info
  • Undertake privateness procedures and practice staff to observe them
  • Assign a person to ensure you’re adopting and following privateness procedures, and
  • Safe affected person data containing PHI in order that they aren’t available to those that don’t have to see them.”

2. Prepare your crew

As famous above, coaching your crew is a required part of HIPAA compliance for social media. Meaning your entire crew, not simply your social crew.

Virtually all staff inside a well being care setting have entry to some extent of PHI. Meaning any worker may expose your group to social media HIPAA violations.

Unintentional social media HIPAA violation examples by your crew would possibly embody:

  • a workers Instagram picture that reveals a affected person’s face within the background, or
  • a submit in a Fb group a few movie star session or troublesome case.

3. Restrict entry to your social accounts

Limiting entry to your social accounts protects your group towards posting content material that violates HIPAA social media guidelines. Everybody in your crew ought to perceive the fundamentals. However you must assign one or two key people who find themselves HIPAA social media specialists. They need to log off on content material earlier than posting.

Nevertheless, these specialists are doubtless at too excessive of a stage in your group to be accountable for creating all of the social content material. Meaning you want a system of workflows and approvals. Acceptable members of your social crew can create content material that’s then queued for approval by your HIPAA specialists.

Hootsuite has a built-in content material creation and approval process. You may assign particular permissions for particular person crew members. You can too arrange approvals on responses to social feedback, which is a key space the place potential HIPAA violations can happen.


Hootsuite permits you to revoke entry to your social accounts when somebody leaves your group or adjustments roles. This helps guarantee compliance with HIPAA entry guidelines.

4. Create clear social media pointers

It’s crucial for any healthcare organization using social media to have a strong social media policy. The coverage wants to obviously define how HIPAA impacts social media. Embody some social media HIPAA violation examples to make the coverage clear.

The policy should have detailed requirements for posts made from your corporate social accounts. But you also need to create HIPAA social media guidelines for workers private accounts. HIPAA guidelines apply to the private accounts of healthcare staff.

Construct a system of HIPAA violation social media sanctions into the rules. This ensures staff perceive the repercussions of breaking the foundations.

5. Implement a social monitoring program

Implement a social media monitoring program to watch for hashtags and key phrases related to your group. This is a crucial manner of understanding what’s being stated about your group on social media.

Most of the posts mentioning your group might come from sufferers or different people who find themselves not topic to HIPAA laws. However additionally it is a superb early-warning system for workers posts that by chance violate the foundations.

You’re in a a lot better place if you happen to catch and resolve a disclosure of PHI on social media earlier than a criticism is filed.

FAQs about HIPAA and social media

Is turning into Fb mates with sufferers a violation of HIPAA?

It’s not strictly talking a HIPAA violation to be Fb mates with a affected person. Nevertheless, it’s not a beneficial follow. As an alternative, create a Facebook business page that your sufferers can observe for updates out of your follow.

Is following a affected person on social media a HIPAA violation?

In search of out a affected person on social media utilizing their PHI (together with their title) could also be a HIPAA violation. It’s higher to keep away from private connections with sufferers on social media.

What info might be shared with out violating HIPAA?

You may share “de-identified” info on social media with out violating HIPAA. Following the “secure harbor” methodology, you need to take away all 18 identifiers from the knowledge.

You can too share info not related to any affected person on social media. For instance, you would share:

  • wholesome dwelling ideas
  • workers profiles, or
  • updates about how your group helps the neighborhood.

Main healthcare suppliers, insurers, and life science corporations worldwide use Hootsuite to enhance their buyer expertise, unify their social message, and guarantee compliance with trade laws. See for your self why we’re the healthcare trade’s main social media administration platform.

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