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The Emerging Legal Risks of Social Media

By Heather Brown
November 04, 2016

Social media is changing communication on a near daily basis. Publishing status updates, pictures, and videos is a routine part of many individual’s lives and help connect them to family and friends across the world. Even businesses are experiencing great success with their social media marketing strategies. With all the hype and advantages of social media, it is difficult to see and understand the potential risks, until they are staring you right in the face.

Not all fun
A number of assisted living facilities utilize Facebook to promote their services and keep families connected with residents. Social media offers you a way to create positive relationships with outsiders – it also opens you to serious additional risks. Once you post or share something on social media platforms – anybody can see it – it’s difficult to take it back.

What about your employees or visitors? The most serious risk you face is no control over what others share from inside your facility.

What you risk

  1. HIPAA violation. Posting photos, videos, or information about residents without their consent is a HIPAA violation. Fines range from $100 to $50,000. Avoiding these fines requires more than just written consent from residents and their families. You need a HIPAA-compliant consent form.
  2. State law violation. Every state has a unique set of laws and some have laws against posting and sharing photographs or videos online without consent. Assisted living facilities are required to follow the set of laws that favors the resident.

Create a policy
The best social media policies and procedures clearly outline expectations and set limitations for your employees, visitors, and residents. Follow these five steps to create a social media policy for your assisted living facility.

  1. What does the law say? The first thing you need to is to research HIPAA and state laws and determine which ones you are legally required to follow. Define these laws in your policy.
  2. What are your facility values? In addition to laws, it is important you define your facility values. What do you expect from you employees? What is acceptable? You may not want pictures taken in certain areas of the facility – define this in your policy.
  3. Set limitations. Make sure you include what activities employees are allowed to video or photograph and where they are allowed to share these. Typically businesses only allow photos and videos be shared on their business page. This is the only way you can monitor activity and comments associated with the post.
  4. Define repercussions. What happens to the employee if they don’t follow your policy? List the number of offenses allowed and what occurs with each – verbal warning, written warning, and loss of employment.
  5. Publish, educate, and test. A vital part of creating your policy is to publish it for easy access and educate your team on the details. Provide staff members with a copy in advance to review and take home and then schedule a meeting to explain in detail and answer their questions.

Why now?
Earlier this year, Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services instructed State Survey Agency Directors to survey nursing homes policies and procedures. Even though the existing focus is in the nursing home sector of long-term care – it is vital assisted living facilities listen. Take steps to prepare for future surveys or audits on assisted living facilities and experience less stress later.

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