HIPAA and Social Media

Posted: November 7th, 2023

HIPAA and Social Media

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HIPAA and Social Media Risks

What You Need to Know

  • Privacy and security issues remain to be the biggest impediments to the effective adoption of electronic health records.
  • Social media can be a critical resource for healthcare multi-disciplinary teams, but a poor application can result in substantial liabilities.
  • Even though information sharing is critical to enhancing patient outcomes, the most important thing to HIPAA is that no type of Protected Health Information (PHI) is exchanged via social media.
  • Despite social networking platforms improving nursing practice, HIPAA violations, including breaches of privacy and confidentiality, have resulted in many nurses losing their jobs.
  • The trend mandates healthcare employers to invest in nurse and clinician training to reduce risks to patients and maintain a professional image.


  • HIPAA legislation was passed several years before the emergence of social media platforms, such as Facebook and Instagram.
  • According to Green (2017), the HIPAA privacy rule restricts the disclosure of PHI without the explicit consent of patients.
  • Examples of unauthorized information include texts and messages concerning a specific patient, images of a patient, unconsented marketing campaigns, and comments with individual identifiers.
  • Petersen and Lehmann (2018) clearly defines HIPAA from the consent angle, stating that when a patient provides consent in writing, PHI is used only for the purpose of the stated activity in the consent form.

Safeguarding Patient Privacy

  • The law requires healthcare organizations to implement HIPAA social media regulations to reduce the risk of data privacy violations.
  • Because contemporary PHI is mostly in digital format, it is essential that healthcare organizations employ computer systems with strict measures for tracking employee activity. It is equally important for management to clarify with the employee base the direct implications of HIPAA violations at the individual and corporate levels.
  • Management has to ensure that team members keep pace with technology to avoid HIPAA breaches.
  • An organization can achieve this function through employee education and training. The healthcare institution must also take the necessary technical steps to ensure data protection.
  • Team member information exchange should be characterized by a secure log-in process, encrypted messaging, delivery receipts, specialized contact lists, and date and time stamps.
  • A feasible solution could be the implementation of closed-loop systems, such as cloud data storage and virtual private networks.


  • Potential applications of PHI are vast and wide, in the same manner in which possible consequences of HIPAA violations are.
  • Since management can never be too careful with enforcing data privacy policies, it is imperative to teach some best practices.
  • Nurses should also not share workplace frustrations or celebrations online. On individual and corporate pages, nurses should monitor the comment section to erase any content that could compromise data privacy.
  • Social media use should be for the explicit exchange of scientific and professional information. If an organization fails to meet its HIPAA obligations, it risks having ineffective team collaboration.
  • The importance of collaboration in healthcare has never been higher.


Bennett, K. G., & Vercler, C. J. (2018). When is posting about patients on social media unethical “Medutainment”? AMA Journal of Ethics, 20(4), 328–335. https://doi.org/10.1001/journalofethics.2018.20.4.ecas1-1804

Green, J. (2017). Nurses’ online behavior: Lessons for the nursing profession. Contemporary Nurse, 53(3), 355–367. https://doi.org/10.1080/10376178.2017.1281749

Petersen, C., & Lehmann, C. U. (2018). Social media in health care: Time for transparent privacy policies and consent for data use and disclosure. Applied Clinical Informatics, 9(4), 856–859. https://doi.org/10.1055/s-0038-1676332

Ventola, C. L. (2014). Social media and health care professionals: benefits, risks, and best practices. P &T: A Peer-Reviewed Journal for Formulary Management, 39(7), 491–520. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4103576/

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