Ever wonder what your doctors and nurses talk about at the water cooler? Well, grab a paper cup and some Emetrol, because a new app is transporting medical chatter from hospital hallways to mobile devices.
Nicknamed Instagram for doctors, Figure 1 is a new social media outlet that allows users to upload photos of patients’ symptoms and maladies in order to ask for diagnoses, glean some advice or simply provide amusement to their peers.
Immediately after logging on – anyone can sign up – I was reviewing the x-ray of a 90-year-old female with a grotesque radial fracture. Scrolling down started a parade of stubbed toes, extracted tumors and rashes galore – enough to make me regret downloading the app over lunch. But as I kept scrolling (and cringing), my communicator instincts started to develop a nervous twitch. The word “HIPAA” began echoing in my head. Were these patients comfortable being photographed and discussed publicly? Did they even know? And what are the implications of a doctor following care recommendations he received from a stranger on a social media site?
The explanation from app creator Josh Landy, as told to Vox.com, is hardly comforting: “These are people who are talking about a lot of the cases because they’re interesting, textbook, classic versions and they can help.”
To be clear, there are doctors using the app for productive reasons. There are also users like the one who posted a photo of a sutured hand with the caption, “Anyone want to guess what happened here?” Others have taken to posting gruesome photos of traumatic amputations and the like.
Regardless of the user’s intent, it’s only a matter of time before a patient’s identity is exposed on Figure 1. For communicators, an ounce of prevention can go a long way in deterring a privacy breach. Start by educating employees on:
Your organization’s social media policy. Most pitfalls lie in the gray areas. Be specific.HIPAA laws. Make sure health workers understand the basics of HIPAA and their roles in upholding it. Encourage them to ask questions.The “rules” of posting online. Whether they want to or not, employees represent their employers on social media. Instill the mentality that nothing is private, nothing can be deleted, and everything could end up on the front page of the paper.
Ill-advised social media posts (not to mention covert photography) have wrought the downfall of many. It’s never been more important to stay vigilant of what employees are posting and where. Otherwise, one unwise post could lead to one “interesting, textbook, classic version” of a HIPAA violation for your organization.