Unsocial Consequences of Social Media on Social Workers

Avoiding Malpractice: Tips for Social Workers to Manage Risk

Unsocial Consequences of Social Media on Social Workers

Albert Einstein once said: “It has become exceedingly obvious that our technology has exceeded our humanity”.

There are two interwoven emerging risks that impact professional liability and exposure to claims and lawsuits. They are Information Technology (IT), and Social Media Internet Usage. Many articles over the past several years have discussed particular HIPAA laws and client records breaches. Here is a brief overview of the topic with some fresh practice pointers.

IT refers to traditional electronic records management and interface with other systems as well as telemedicine, email Skype, and social media networking. Here are some of the IT hazards that you need to be aware of:

  • Inadequate client file copy digital back up and lack of paper file storage in a secure location(s) to limit information loss and/or corruption.
  • Hacking of electronic records and files that result in compromised client confidentiality and possible identity theft.
  • Inappropriate disclosure of client information contained in text messages, paper notes, faxes, or emails.
  • Stolen or lost IT equipment such as laptops, ipads, notebooks, cell phones, and other handheld devices that contain confidential information including client names, telephone numbers, and email addresses.

Read your Professional Liability insurance policy to determine First Party (You) coverage for client information breach. This includes misdirected records sent through electronic channels such as fax and email. Many policies exclude this coverage. Look for supplemental insurance policies that fill the gap arising from stolen computer devices and third-party information breaches such as client information lost by your employees or contractors, digital warehouse storage vendors, or even by movers who lose your paper records and files.

Insurance protection coverage is provided for all of these perils by the NASW Risk Retention Group’s Professional Liability, Cyber Liability, and Cyber Device insurance policies.

The use of social media and related tools offer a wide range of benefits for the social worker, but also have a wide range of risks. With proper use, social media and networking platforms improve client compliance and service and strengthen the bond between the practitioner and the client. However, social media utilization may lead to increased liability risks and widespread negative circulation.

Social Media is a great way to connect, but practitioners and students must realize that online postings are revealing and permanent. They can easily impact licensing and the ability to practice.

Social media professional standards are the same online as in any other circumstance.

Always think twice to protect yourself before you post any content that could be viewed as unprofessional at a minimum, and worse, fester into a client records breach Licensing Board Inquiry, a HIPAA violation, and a loss of license. Postings are not private, and they are permanent.

There are two key social media hazards to be aware of:

  1. Violations of client privacy or confidentiality. This can be inadvertent or intentional, such as negative comments about clients, therapy disclosures and issues, clients’ names or photos, or any other names that link identity.
  2. Unprofessional Behavior. This can be ethical standards that are breached by the practitioner such as comments or photos of drug use and alcohol consumption, profanity, sexually explicit or other derogatory comments, negative comments about co-workers or employers, or threatening or harassing statements.

Here are some of the social media hazards that you need to be made aware of:

  • Online behavior that is inappropriate and breaches of professional etiquette which could escalate to HIPAA breaches and Licensing Board inquiries.
  • Pure and simple unauthorized disclosure of protected client healthcare information that is mistakenly and/or innocently disclosed.
  • Potential legal consequences regarding what the social worker says in the practice’s marketing materials and websites that may contain implied warranties or implied guarantees.
  • Injudicious postings that were not intended to create harm, but became the basis of a libel or slander lawsuit.

Here are some social media content tips to consider to mitigate liability risks:

  • Client confidentiality and privacy must always be maintained, regardless of media or channel used.
  • Do not post client pictures or images, or information that enables the identification of the client.
  • Do not refer to clients in a disparaging way, even if the clients are not specifically identified.
  • Do not take photos or videos or clients on cell phones.
  • Beware of connecting clients with former or current clients using social media.
  • Promptly report any client breaches that you witness at your workplace, and comply with employer policies regarding the use of all IT and electronic devices.

Published August 2018

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