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Could Social Media Be Breaching Your Medical Privacy?

| | 2 minute read

Social media has wound its way into our everyday lives. We check our Facebook first thing in the morning to see what our friends were up to while we were asleep. We look at Instagram and Twitter throughout the little breaks in our day to keep up-to-date with in-depth information on everyone we follow. When we really think about how much we learn everyday through social media, does the word “privacy” enter our minds?

One place where social media has been a concern is in the medical laboratory community. What is appropriate and what is inappropriate to share?  Some sites share pictures of patient blood smears or gram stains but sharing anything that can identify a patient or hospital setting is not ethical. Where is the line between general information and private information? To tweet or not to tweet? That – in fact – is the question.

So, what is a medical laboratory professional to do?

Cynthia Handley, Ph.D., MT (ASCP) and a fellow researcher recently completed a literature review of the subject. “Today’s medical laboratory professionals have very interesting cases come across their work bench,” said Handley. “They have to do their jobs while also maintaining a professional environment and balancing desire to share on social media with their ethical responsibilities.”

Today, more and more medical organizations are going outside of their secure network and launching Facebook and Twitter accounts. You might think this is risky, since healthcare is so personal, but it may become a lifesaver. For example, the ability for your local hospital to send out a tweet in case of an emergency might come in handy.

You might even be able to find out when you can attend local blood drives or how to access free health clinics, all via social media.

With all these benefits, Handley says individuals and organizations need to be careful when choosing what to put out via social media. “Institutions are generating original content and encouraging discussion about their techniques and services through blogs and chat rooms on their websites,” she said. “But it is best to have policies or systems to adequately address protocol of when, how, and where to use social media, especially for employees.”

In a world that is inundated with an abundance of information at our fingertips, medical laboratory workplaces now have one more question to answer: “How much can we share on the Internet?”

McDonald, H., & Handley, C. (2015). Social media in the medical laboratory workplace. Clinical Laboratory Science, 28(4), 209-211.

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