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The use of social media has exploded since the creation of networking sites such as Twitter and Facebook. For physicians and practice managers, this raises the question: Is your staff being too social?
“People on the Internet tend to think they are invincible,” said Elise Levine, MAG, CRC, OCS, practice administrator and director of clinical research at North Valley Eye Medical Group in Mission Hills, Calif. “They tend to think there are no repercussions for their actions,” but the repercussions for your practice can be very real. Staff misuse of social networking sites—whether by posting inappropriate messages or simply spending too much time on them—can cause a litany of problems, ranging from lost productivity to lawsuits and long-term damage to your reputation.
Proactive, preventive measures are the key to protecting your practice. Here are some of the most common problems related to use of social media in the workplace, along with some solutions.
More at the Meeting
|Buy an Academy Plus course pass to attend the following instruction courses.
Ms. Laigaie will present “Social Media and Social Networking in the Physician Office” (9 to 10 a.m., Tuesday, Nov. 13; event code “506”).
Amy Wong, MD, will present “Social Media and the Workplace: Legal, Ethical, and Practical Issues Every Employer Should Consider” (2 to 3 p.m., Monday, Nov. 12; “397”) and “Mitigating Legal Risks: Social Media and the Doctor’s Dilemma” (10:15 to 11:15 a.m., Tuesday, Nov. 13; “525”).
David Swink will present “Social Networking: Balancing Risks and Rewards” (2 to 4:15 p.m., Monday, Nov. 12; “401”).
The Threat to Productivity
The problem: Office productivity is at risk. Give most people a smartphone or a computer with an Internet connection, and they can stay occupied for hours—some even days. When this behavior creeps into the workplace, productivity could become a concern. While it has been argued that occasional browsing may actually improve productivity, excessive time online “tends to be distracting to the other employees and sets a bad example,” said Brenda Laigaie, a health care attorney at Wade, Goldstein, Landau, and Abruzzo in Berwyn, Pa.
The solution: Monitor employee productivity. “If an employee’s productivity is lagging or deadlines are not met, you should investigate. If the only thing that accounts for the decline is hours spent on the Internet, you need to step in,” said Ms. Laigaie. “Tell employees that they will be monitored. You must make sure that employees do not have an expectation of privacy in their use of Internet at work. Also, be mindful that this is not a ‘fishing expedition’; rather the employer is monitoring for legitimate work-related business purposes.”
The problem: Computers malfunction. Downloading files, installing programs, and opening e-mails that launch viruses are just some of the ways in which unrestricted employee access to social media sites and the Web could pose a threat. “The number one loss of productivity occurs when your computers crash,” said Albert Castillo, office administrator at San Antonio Eye Center. “Employees are not aware of the repercussions. They download a virus, and we pay for it later with downtime and repairs.”
The solution: Limit employee use. To protect the integrity of your system, Mr. Castillo suggested limiting some types of computer use. “Employees can log into the computer, access the electronic health records and practice management system, and visit insurance websites. However, they are not able to do anything else, including uploading photos, inserting CDs, installing software, plugging in a USB device to upload files, or changing the desktop on the screen. MySpace, Twitter, YouTube, and Google + You are all inaccessible at our practice. We block Craigslist and eBay, too, which also
tend to pose problems,” he said.
The problem: Excessive use of smartphones at work. Incoming and outgoing calls on the job are not the only issue to consider—smartphones also make it easy to use social media sites during working hours.
The solution: Consider blocking the signal. Some practices eliminate employees’ ability to use cell phones by blocking the signal on the premises. “If an employee brings in a cell phone to our office, it does not work,” said Mr. Castillo. “The biggest complaint we initially had about this policy was the inability of family members to contact our employees. However, our reception staff will quickly deliver emergency messages to employees. And each staff member has an extension where they can accept phone calls.”
Problematic Online Behavior
The problem: Online posts are permanent. “From an employer’s perspective, Facebook is the biggest social media offender for a plethora of reasons,” Ms. Levine said. “Our youth, and even some adults, just do not ‘get it.’ They do not realize that the things they are putting out into cyberspace remain there forever. Even if you delete it, your online history can be subpoenaed from your Internet service provider,” she said. Once you press “send,” your comments or photos are out there permanently—whether you use privacy features or not. This can become a problem for you when those posts relate to your practice.
The solution: Urge staff to be judicious about posting. Ms. Levine warns staff: “Not everyone with access to your page or post has your best interests at heart. This information can and will be used against you if you are involved in a legal dispute. Think twice before you make a post.”
The problem: Friends who share too much information with you. Being Facebook “friends” with coworkers seems harmless at first blush, but you may end up knowing more than you want to know about their private lives.
The solution: Think twice before accepting “friend” status. “At our practice, I prefer that supervisors refrain from ‘friending’ a subordinate. I learned from experience that nothing positive can come from this. Employees sometimes lack discretion, and it can put me in a difficult position. It definitely colors my objectivity when a staff member posts pictures on Facebook at 1:30 a.m. that depict them out partying and then texts me at 6 a.m. saying they have the flu,” said Ms. Levine.
The problem: The knee-jerk response to criticism. When a patient posts a negative review on your practice’s Facebook page or you have a conflict with an employee, you may be tempted to react quickly. But whether you are responding to a critical post or e-mailing a staff member, you should be sure to wait until you cool down. Not only can an emotional response be used against you, it can damage your reputation. “The most recent case I handled was a physician who had reacted in haste to a staff issue,” said Ms. Laigaie. “He said things that he should not have in an e-mail. Clearly, it was a knee-jerk reaction, but his comments went viral.”
The solution: Sleep on it. “If you are responding to a criticism of your practice or to a highly emotional situation, put it in a draft, rewrite it, delete it, and start over. Make sure it is not sent until your message is stated in a manner in which you want your practice represented,” said Ms. Laigaie.
Establish a Set of Policies
Keep it legal. Whether you would like to implement rigid rules or basic guidelines, it is important to familiarize yourself with national, state, and local regulations before creating your social media policy. “We wanted to know what other companies were doing and therefore did a lot of research before crafting our policies,” said Mr. Castillo. “Many businesses post their rules online, so we examined different policies, identified our problems, and decided which issues posed a threat to our practice. Once these items were defined, we wrote a policy and sent it to an attorney for review to ensure we were not violating employees’ rights.”
Differentiate between telephones and Twitter. “I recommend itemizing your rules by technology—phones, voicemail, e-mail, Internet, and social media, for example,” said Ms. Laigaie. “A general policy that simply states ‘anything electronic’ is not enough. It should describe what is permitted and to what extent it is permitted.”
Describe what disciplinary steps will be taken. “It should also define the disciplinary action taken if a rule is violated. Require your employees sign an acknowledgment stating that they have read, understand, and will abide by your policies,” said Ms. Laigaie.