Welcome to Part II of a series on developing a social media policy for urgent care! Check out Part I on policies for employee use of social media.

Patient experience is important for any branch or specialty of healthcare—but especially so for urgent cares. That’s because the industry is incredibly competitive. Your social media profiles should broadcast your patient experience success, and they should address the distinct needs of urgent cares. Just make sure that your social media policy protects you from the risk.

This post will wrap up our series on social media policy for urgent cares by explaining the who, what, where, when, and how of the urgent care organization’s use of social media.

The who (so you won’t get fooled again)

Social media responsibility is often held by a marketing or public relations department. A risk manager or legal advisor should be involved in policy formation and approval as well. Careful adherence to the clinic image, reputation, and messaging should be defined.

But your policies shouldn’t be so restrictive that they prevent any potential benefit from social media. Sharing patient stories online, for example, can be a very effective marketing tool. That same Pharmacology & Therapeutics article referenced in the last post makes it clear that HIPAA does not ban providers from talking about patients—far from it!

“Whether communicating with or about patients on social media, breaches of patient confidentiality can result in legal action against [a health care professional] and potentially his or her employer. However, it is important to note that HIPAA does not restrict the distribution of medical information that has been ‘de-identified.’”

De-identification means removing personal identifying information and references. That means no names, insurance or Social Security numbers, date of birth, or photos. Also, avoid the description of rare medical problems, and don’t include specific time frames or locations without patient consent.

Getting patient consent changes the game entirely. If a patient’s okay with it, you can include a name or even a picture. Your policies should cover the processes of securing patient consent and the subsequent posting of patient information.

The what, when, where, and how

From an operations standpoint, urgent cares may also want to outline some workflow issues ahead of time. This make it easier to efficiently make decisions that support organizational goals, such as reputation management.

For example, what should you do when a patient complains? If you don’t have a policy ahead of time, it can be difficult to make decisions that avoid a public conflict. Even if you end up crafting the perfect response, you risk spinning your wheels in interdepartmental meetings for a day while a nasty comment sits, unaddressed, at the top of your profile. It’s best to decide on a policy (and possibly a script) before it happens.

On the happier end of the spectrum, how do you decide which events, awards, and milestones are celebrated on social media? A set of criteria helps ensure that certain urgent care sites don’t feel underappreciated and decide to take matters into their own hands. This is especially important for larger urgent care organizations with multiple centers. In larger healthcare organizations, it’s common for individual sites or departments to set up their own social media profiles. If the profile has  lots of followers and is generating high-quality original content, you can imagine the benefits. But you can also imagine the risk.

In our experience, here are some issues to consider:

  • Who designates the posting schedule and calendar
  • Frequency for comments and criteria for engagement
  • Whether to use formulated “canned” responses or a more conversational approach
  • How the clinic engages in sensitive social issues (e.g., racial injustice)
  • How to handle requests for medical advice, including a standard disclaimer and direction for emergency care
  • Whether all clinics and affiliates share social media or have separate pages
  • How to respond to and escalate complaints to the proper official, such as a patient advocate
  • How to respond to negative ratings
  • How to respond to community discussions about the clinic on other public social media pages, e.g., news sites and community forums
  • How and when to celebrate success

A successful social media strategy is a great way to maximize community outreach for an urgent care organization. This outreach can keep your business “top of mind” when a patient needs on-demand care for an injury or illness.

By establishing an official policy early on, social media can be handled appropriately and many of the risks can be sidestepped completely.

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