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The Social Media Doctor Is In

All around the world, businesses are getting social. Ford Motor Co. is crowd-sourcing ideas for features in future cars. Shoe seller Zappos shares Facebook “likes” with customers. Toy maker Hasbro ties Facebook videos to its Cranium board game.

Hospitals, doctors, nurses and patients would seem like naturals for social media. But they have been slow to take advantage of it because of well-founded fears of violating patient-privacy laws.

As valuable as social media can be for businesses and employees, they can also be perilous. Workers who love to use wikis and chat for personal communications or YouTube for showing off funny videos, can get in trouble when they start using them for sharing company plans or customer information.

This is particularly true in industries where information sharing is subject to government regulation. Health care is a field where strict patient-confidentiality rules have kept hospitals and doctors from embracing social media.

In a sign of the growing concern about the issue, a Westerly, R.I. hospital, just fired an emergency room doctor for posting information about a patient on her Facebook page, even though she didn’t name the patient. The disciplinary action follows sanctions against doctors and nurses in California and Wisconsin over similar issues, according to the Boston Globe.

Two physicians at Boston’s Beth Israel Deaconess Hospital recently wrote an opinion piece in The Annals of Internal Medicine that physicians should think of the Internet as the world’s elevator where someone is always listening in.

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