A quick look at my personal Facebook page prior to my commencement of this post revealed that I currently have 121 friends that I have connected with through the “popular networking site”.
My experience with Facebook is hit and miss. I am now careful to limit incoming friend requests to “friends of friends”. The reader might find this next bit of information surprising, but I can actually be quite aggressive on certain topics that I come across in my personal life (that was a demonstration of my sarcasm, of course). When I need to pop off about something with the colorful language I learned in my youth as a Philadelphia sports fan, it is best that these are kept sequestered from the majority of my professional contacts. We have LinkedIn for actual professional networking. As a footnote, in order to satisfy any of your lingering curiosity, I have only ever “unfriended” 3 people, and it has been because I discovered retroactively that some of the friends of my actual friends are political troglodytes.
With the generations coming up behind my own (quick note: please do not refer to mine as Generation X; you young punks would be cynical and disconnected too if you grew up around AMC Javelins and Disco music) feeling free to share anything and everything online, intersections with reality are sure to follow. We’ve learned that it’s not a good idea for the local elementary school teacher to post pictures of herself on vacation doing body shots off the locals in Cancun. Additionally, a few frustrated employees have learned that criticizing your employer with language not normally shared in your typical convent earns you an express ticket to the Island of Free Time.
One such intersection with reality was this recent story from Mission Hills, California. An employee at Providence Holy Cross Medical Center, who was recently hired through a staffing agency, came across a patient’s medical record with featured conditions that he found amusing. He then took it upon himself to post the page from the medical record, complete with patient name and date of admission, as a photo on his Facebook page, accompanied by comments that mocked the reasons for the patient’s encounter. When told by his more level-headed, law-abiding friends in the Comments section of the post that he was violating HIPAA laws, he said (and I must quote this verbatim so the reader can fully internalize it), “People, it’s just Facebook…Not reality. Hello? Again…It’s just a name out of millions and millions of names. If some people can’t appreciate my humor than tough. And if you don’t like it too bad because it’s my wall and I’ll post what I want to. Cheers!”.
It has never been my professional goal, but how I wish I had law enforcement power for just 10 minutes when I read things like this.
I was born in the semi-mythical Time Before Pong, but there were two lessons I learned before the age of 6. There are five distinct human senses, and everything on television is fake. With new technology, my 22 years in health care and with the story above in mind, allow me to add an extremely important caveat; while your computer can stream television shows, what you type on Facebook is not, in fact, a mythical television show, but reality. Yes, it is two-dimensional, but no, it is not fake. If you create it, it exists. Additionally, thanks to online archiving, if you create it on a popular networking website, it exists beyond your lifespan, allowing succeeding generations to see not only that you had a bad sense of humor, but that your version of belly laughs came at the expense of someone’s legally codified right to privacy.
Social networking, and the prevalence of internet usage in general, offers challenges that did not exist at the time the HIPAA laws came into being. Health care providers of all types now find themselves playing catch-up to a public social structure that is quickly migrating away from meaningful, face-to-face discourse and toward two to three sentences of unexpurgated online communication (complete with photos) to hundreds – or perhaps thousands – at a time. Many employee policies on technology usage remain woefully inadequate for this environment.
People employed at all levels of the health care field must be made aware of what is and isn’t allowed when discussing their work in a permanent public forum. Since I have your attention, I’ll start, using myself as an example. I’m a compliance officer for a company that does high-end data analytics that allows health care entities to quickly identify their highest areas of compliance and audit risk. We also provide some medical billing services, but I’m not going to tell you for whom. I see protected health information for medical conditions as part of my daily duties, but that also is none of your business, and I keep it at work.
On a personal note, I am currently employed by bosses whom I actually like and respect and who have done wonders for my professional development. If that happened not to be the case, I would save it for happy hour, which I never document or photograph for public consumption anymore, as my multiple glasses of dark beer kept spilling on my camera phone. To round out, I live with my wife, son, dog and obnoxiously loud nocturnal cat, my main hobbies are music and being a fan of ice hockey, and my bar trivia team can usually be found on Wednesday nights trouncing the local competition at O’Lydia’s Pub in Milwaukee.
Now you have all you need to know to begin to update your employee policies for social networking, as well as my general background, demonstrating once again that there are indeed acceptable paths to spreading wisdom on the internet.