Social Media and the Veterinary Practice

The online world is growing. Facebook now boasts a “population” larger than the United States. Thousands of veterinarians are currently taking advantage of social media (e.g. Facebook, Twitter, Youtube, LinkedIn, &c.) and smartphones. It is important to take a brief look at some important issues and areas of concern for veterinary professionals using or considering the use of social media to build and promote their public, patient, and employee relationships.

 
Public Relations
The advantages of a strong social media presence are clear. Information may be shared with colleagues to sustain camaraderie, with patients to strengthen vet-patient relationships, and with the public to bolster your reputation.
It is vitally important to consult with your legal advisers early and often when bringing your professional presence to an online forum.

 

Patient Relations

If content on your social media page is also medical in nature, depending on the forum, the Health Information Portability and Accounting Act (HIPAA) may be implicated.
Members of the veterinary profession should adhere to the following guidelines:

(a) Veterinarians should be cognizant of standards of patient privacy and confidentiality that must be maintained in all environments, including online.
(b) When using the Internet for social networking,veterinarians should use privacy settings to safeguard personal information and content to the extent possible.
(c) If veterinarians interact with patients on the Internet, they must maintain appropriate boundaries of the patient-vet relationship.
(d) To maintain appropriate professional boundaries veterinarians should consider separating personal and professional content online.
(e) Vets must recognize that actions online and content posted may negatively affect their reputations among patients and colleagues, and may have consequences for their professional careers (particularly for veterinarians-in-training and veterinary students), and can undermine public trust in the veterinary profession.

When veterinary professionals provide a social media forum for patient feedback, they risk running afoul of HIPAA rules and regulations. Prior to building a social media presence, it is important to develop policies and procedures designed to guide appropriate use of the relevant forum. A few key points follow:

 

Under the Health Information Technology for Economic and Clinic Health Act (HITECH Act), there are substantial penalties and fines that may be assessed for HIPAA violations that occur during social media exchanges. Under the HITECH Act, fines range from $100.00 to $100,000.00.
Be clear with a disclaimer that patient information is personal and should never be shared via the Internet. Inform participants that any posting that appears to be a violation of this policy will be removed.

 

Employee Relations

 
It is important to keep your employees from becoming lax about privacy rules when it comes to social media.
Education is always the first line of defense when it comes to privacy and security safeguards. Make sure all employees are trained and up to date about the privacy and security rules and be sure to disseminate a written company policy outlining permissible and impermissible actions. Make social media training a part of your HIPAA compliance program.
Social media is a powerful tool for expanding a veterinary practice, but be aware of the potential complications. Always consult your legal adviser before branching out into online forums.

 

Receptionist

 

 
Stuart J. Oberman, Esq. handles a wide range of legal issues for the veterinary profession including employment law, practice sales, real estate transactions, lease agreements, OSHA compliance, veterinary board complaints, employment law, and entity formation.
For questions or comments regarding this article please call (770) 554-1400 or visit www.obermanlaw.com

If you would like Stuart J. Oberman, Esq. to speak at an event to your organization, please contact Katharine Drum, Marketing Coordinator (kath@obermanlaw.com)

Social Media and the Dental Practice

The online world is growing. Facebook now boasts a “population” larger than the United States. Thousands of dentists are currently taking advantage of all types of social media. It is important to take a brief look at some important issues and areas of concern for dental professionals using or considering the use of social media to build and promote their public, patient, and employee relationships.

Public Relations

The advantages of a strong social media presence are clear. Information may be shared with colleagues to sustain camaraderie, with patients to strengthen dentist-patient relationships, and with the public to bolster your reputation. It is vitally important to consult with your legal advisers early and often when bringing your professional presence to an online forum.

Patient Relations

If content on your social media page is also medical in nature, depending on the forum, the Health Information Portability and Accounting Act (HIPAA) may be implicated.

Members of the dental profession should adhere to the following guidelines:

(a) Dentists should be cognizant of standards of patient privacy and confidentiality that must be maintained in all environments, including online.

(b) When using the Internet for social networking, dentists should use privacy settings to safeguard personal information and content to the extent possible.

(c) If dentists interact with patients on the Internet, dentists must maintain appropriate boundaries of the patient-dentist relationship.

(d)  To maintain appropriate professional boundaries dentists should consider separating personal and professional content online.

(e)  Dentists must recognize that actions online and content posted may negatively affect their reputations among patients and colleagues, and may have consequences for their professional careers (particularly for dentists-in-training and dental students), and can undermine public trust in the dental profession.

When dental professionals provide a social media forum for patient feedback, they risk running afoul of HIPAA rules and regulations. Prior to building a social media presence, it is important to develop policies and procedures designed to guide appropriate use of the relevant forum.  A few key points follow:

Under the Health Information Technology for Economic and Clinic Health Act (HITECH Act), there are substantial penalties and fines that may be assessed for HIPAA violations that occur during social media exchanges. Under the HITECH Act, fines range from $100.00 to $100,000.00.

Be clear with a disclaimer that patient information is personal and should never be shared via the Internet. Inform participants that any posting that appears to be a violation of this policy will be removed.

Employee Relations

It is important to keep your employees from becoming lax about privacy rules when it comes to social media.

Education is always the first line of defense when it comes to privacy and security safeguards. Make sure all employees are trained and up to date about the privacy and security rules and be sure to disseminate a written company policy outlining permissible and impermissible actions. Make social media training a part of your HIPAA compliance program.

Social media is a powerful tool for expanding a dental practice, but be aware of the potential complications. Always consult your legal adviser before branching out into online forums.

Five Potential Legal Risks Associated with Groupon

With the explosion of social media and online marketing, members of the dental community “must” be aware of the risks associated with the new marketing. While dental practices have successfully utilized the services of Groupon to attract new patients, there are growing concerns regarding this type of marketing. The American Dental Association has recently published its opinion on the Groupon issue. Before a dentist participates in a Groupon marketing campaign, they must be aware of potential ramifications.

1: Fee-Splitting
A dentist utilizing Groupon to offer discounts to new and current patients will split a portion of the revenue generated from the promotion with Groupon. Many states have regulations that prohibit fee splitting between a dentist and a third party. A violation of the state regulations could result in the dentist facing censure and reprimand, fines, suspension, and even license revocation.

2: Federal Anti-Kickback Statute
The federal anti-kickback statute, 42 U.S.C. § 1320a-7b(b) generally prohibits a dentist from offering or paying remuneration to induce a person to refer a patient that may be eligible for services under a federal health care program, including Medicare or Medicaid. A dentist violating federal law could be charged with a felony and subject to fines, imprisonment, and exclusion from federal health care programs.

3: Most Favored Nations Clause
The terms of a dentist’s contract with third party payors [insurance carriers] may pose problems with the offer and award of Groupon’s discounts to patients. Many insurance contracts provide that the dentist must provide the insurer with the best price that the dentist charges for a particular service (a “most favored nations” clause). Providing a discounted rate to Groupon customers may breach the most favored nation provision in an insurance contract. As a result, the dentist may be required to offer the same discount to the insurer’s patients.

4: ADA Ethical Rules
According to the American Dental Association Principles of Ethics and Code of Professional Conduct Section 4.E. Rebates and Split Fees, dentists “shall not accept or tender ‘rebates’ or ‘split fees’”.

5: Dental Boards
Most dental boards provide that a dentist “shall not give rebates or split fees with a referral source”.

Before a dentist enters in to or starts any type of marketing campaign (or social media campaign), they should seek legal advice as to the application of state and federal laws, the most favored nations clause, ADA Ethical rules and Dental Board rules. While the marketing of any dental practice is important, an ill-advised marketing campaign could result in a dentist being censured, reprimanded, fined, suspended, and lose their license.