“Doctors on social media share embarrassing photos, details of patients”

Some doctors have misgivings about employing social media in the service of patient care: “What if one finds something that is not warm and fuzzy?” frets resident physician Haider Javed Warraich in a post this week on the New York Times’ Well blog. Despite his reservations, Warraich defends the practice, pointing out that doctors have used online intel to gauge suicide risk, discover relevant undisclosed criminal histories, and contact the families of unresponsive patients.

Social networking was also helpful on the day of the Boston Marathon bombing. Doctors near the finish line tweeted accounts of the attack to local emergency personnel six minutes before official announcements were made, giving staff critical time to prepare for the arrival of victims.

But until the utility of online sharing in health care contexts becomes obvious to hospital operatives, they’ll continue to view it the way the rest of us regard twerking—if we ignore it long enough, surely it will just go away. Nearly 60 percent of the health care professionals surveyed by InCrowd report having no social media access in clinical settings at work.

The American Nurses Association, American Medical Association, and other trade groups have tried to soften administrators’ hard line by setting standards for social media use in the workplace. They’ve published guidelines packed with nuggets like “Pause before you post” and “Be aware that any information [you] post on a social networking site may be disseminated (whether intended or not) to a larger audience.”

via Slate

This really isn’t as difficult as Slate makes it seem.

Social media employing any potentially identifying information should be permissable if and only if there is a clear benefit to the patient, and privacy precautions are taken.

It’s really that simple.

There’s no reason why doctors need to be digging around or worrying about patients’ undisclosed criminal history, and there’s certainly no reason why we ought to view privacy violations as inevitable.

The life-saving nature of certain types of tweet (for example, the doctors who seek help in assessing suicide risk) may suggest that some types of privacy violations may seem justifiable, but there is no reason why professionals should not be held to roughly the same standards as other life-saving professional ethical codes with regards to judgment calls, and full privacy protections should only be waived if for some reason adhering to them might cause serious harm.

Professionals who don’t take privacy seriously should lose their license and face criminal charges. If the profession won’t police itself, the entire profession will suffer a loss of credibility – patients will rightfully lose faith and trust in doctors.

The issue seems somehow more complicated than this in the Slate article because they use examples that border on dishonesty: why would they even include the Boston Marathon bombing incident? What possible reason could they have for treating that situation as if it were somehow in the same category as the incident with the nurses who posted private patient photos on their Facebook pages? The Boston Marathon case could not have involved privacy violations, since the tweeters were writing about what they’d observed in a public situation.

Under no circumstances should patient information be uploaded to any site for reasons that are not beneficial to the patient. Nobody should be afraid to seek medical help for fear that he will end up on a Facebook page, ridiculed by the so-called professionals.

A good rule of thumb might go like this:  if you would be embarrassed, ashamed, or afraid of what people might think if the person whose information you posted found out what you did, you are probably committing a crime.

In 1999 the California HealthCare Foundation issued a report titled “The Future of the Internet in Health Care: Five-Year Forecast,” by Robert Mittman and Mary Cain of the Institute for the Future… overall, the forecast proved remarkably prescient. Its conclusions about online privacy foreshadow the equilibrium most contemporary patients and providers have reached: “[T]here will inevitably be several well-publicized incidents of people being harmed by public releases of their health care information—those exceptional cases will shape the debate,” the report predicts. “[I]n the end, people and organizations will have to learn to live with a less-than-perfect combination of technologies and policies.”

There’s “less than perfect”, and then there’s just professionals who aren’t behaving according to professional standards.

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“Obamacare will question your sex life”

‘Are you sexually active? If so, with one partner, multiple partners or same-sex partners?”

Be ready to answer those questions and more the next time you go to the doctor, whether it’s the dermatologist or the cardiologist and no matter if the questions are unrelated to why you’re seeking medical help. And you can thank the Obama health law.

“This is nasty business,” says New York cardiologist Dr. Adam Budzikowski. He called the sex questions “insensitive, stupid and very intrusive.” He couldn’t think of an occasion when a cardiologist would need such information — but he knows he’ll be pushed to ask for it.

The president’s “reforms” aim to turn doctors into government agents, pressuring them financially to ask questions they consider inappropriate and unnecessary, and to violate their Hippocratic Oath to keep patients’ records confidential.

Embarrassing though it may be, you confide things to a doctor you wouldn’t tell anyone else. But this is entirely different.

Doctors and hospitals who don’t comply with the federal government’s electronic-health-records requirements forgo incentive payments now; starting in 2015, they’ll face financial penalties from Medicare and Medicaid. The Department of Health and Human Services has already paid out over $12.7 billion for these incentives.

Dr. Richard Amerling, a nephrologist and associate professor at Albert Einstein Medical College, explains that your medical record should be “a story created by you and your doctor solely for your treatment and benefit.” But the new requirements are turning it “into an interrogation, and the data will not be confidential.”

Lack of confidentiality is what concerned the New York Civil Liberties Union in a 2012 report. Electronic medical records have enormous benefits, but with one click of a mouse, every piece of information in a patient’s record, including the social history, is transmitted, disclosing too much.

The social-history questions also include whether you’ve ever used drugs, including IV drugs. As the NYCLU cautioned, revealing a patient’s past drug problem, even if it was a decade ago, risks stigma.

via New York Post.