Jan 11, 2020 in Analysis

Use of Smartphones and Social Media in Healthcare
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Introduction

The use of smartphones and social media by various healthcare professionals has increased over the last couple of years. This growing trend has been experienced since the realization of the need to have more interaction between the patients and healthcare providers. Smartphones provide platforms that people can freely interact and get information regarding various health topics. Social media applications on smartphones such as WhatsApp, Instagram, Facebook, Twitter, among others allow interactions among people, and this has been seen to be an absolute social revolution in healthcare. 

Smartphones in healthcare are today being used for efficiency, care, and communication. This has, however, come with legal, professional, and ethical issues from both individual and hospital perspectives. Medicine is currently adopting new technologies that have seen it advance in therapies, communication, and diagnostic tools. Physicians and other caregivers have embraced this technology and has led to efficient and better patient care. At the same time, these professionals have ensured that they keep the established tenets such as trust, integrity, and humanism that are the basis of the profession. This paper explores the use of smartphones and social media by various healthcare professionals and the HIPAA regulations regarding use of technology. It also outlines the advantages and disadvantages of smartphones and social media in healthcare.

 

Use of Smartphones in Healthcare and HIPAA Regulations

The main challenge that comes with use of social media is the security of digital communication. From HIPAA, the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) gave a privacy rule that provides privacy standards for protecting health information of a patient. The privacy rule outlines the fines and charges applicable to entities who disclose private health information of their patients. Such private information may be oral electronic or in paper forms. The HIPAA Privacy Rule has a safeguard standard, which obliges covered entities to ensure that protected information is safeguarded from unwarranted disclosure either intentionally or accidentally. The set standards are flexible and allow various entities to be involved. 

Use of smartphones to communicate with patients is currently taking over the use of paper and face-to-face communications. Research has shown that one in four doctors use smartphones and social media for medical purposes. Use of mobile phones to exchange Protected Health Information (ePHI) is unsafe because phones keep the data in its memory or sim card. If such a device gets lost, the person who gets it might share the information kept on the phone with an unintended audience, hence breaching the privacy rule. Most clinicians use personal phones to share ePHI with their patients, and this raises risks such associated with authentication, encryption, and Wi-Fi connection.

 Most of the ePHI stored in phones are not kept in password-locked folders, and any third party who accesses the smartphone is likely to get such information. Moreover, such information is not encrypted, hence anyone can share. Most smartphones are set to use public Wi-Fi to receive or send information, and this may compromise the security of the ePHI. Although the HIPAA Security Rule permits health care givers to use electronic means of communication with their patients, the law requires them to use rational safeguard to ensure that patient records are kept safe. An administrative safeguard will involve conducting a regular assessment to assess whether personal smartphones are used to share ePHI and the level of security for such information.

Advantages of Using Social Media and Smartphones in Healthcare

Use of smartphones and social media in hospitals has helped in monitoring patients. Mobile applications like iWander have been used to monitor patients who suffer from diseases such as Alzheimer. The App uses the GPS of the smartphone and relays the location of the patient all the time. If the GPS senses that the patient is in a different location from what was expected, it prompts the patient to confirm his status, and if the patient fails to respond, then the App rings an alarm that alerts the family members to act. Smartphones also help monitor patients who are taking rehabilitation exercises away from hospitals and are used to track their progress and provide progressive exercise regimes. Smartphones can also be used to monitor stroke and sleep apnea patients.

The other advantage of using social media and smartphones is the ease in research, communication, and education. Use of smartphones has improved communication among medical practitioners working in inpatient wards. Timely communication helps reduce chances of experiencing medical errors. Research carried out in Toronto General Hospital showed that nurses used social media to contact teammates on non-urgent issues and have found them to be more efficient compared to pagers. Members can easily access pages that they share information with a click of a button in their phones and internet connection. Research findings can also be easily sent using a smartphone in areas where internet access is a challenge. In medical education, smartphones help in carrying out simulation tests, hence an effective way of retrieving information in areas where resources are scarce.

Disadvantages of Using Social Media and Smartphones in Healthcare

The main disadvantage of using smartphones and social media is the increase in interruptions and weakened inter-professional relationships. Many care providers have resorted to the use of social media, and this implies that most of their work time will be interrupted since they take a time off to access their phones. Use of social media has also reduced chances of face-to-face meetings. Physical meetings help improve inter-professional relationships because people can be able to share information with people who are both physically and emotionally close to them. This has been eliminated by use of social media and smartphones. 

Lastly, use of social media and smartphones pose security concern to medical information. People tend to misuse their smartphones to pass medical information to unintended recipients intentionally or accidentally. Some take photos of patients and share with friends or post them on platforms such as Facebook or Instagram. In such a scenario where a nurse takes photos of a celebrity and sends them to a friend, and even forgets the phone in the hospital bed, the safety of such photos are at risk. If I get a message concerning violation of HIPAA regulation, I will take the most reasonable steps to solve the issue. First, given that the phone was left in the hospital, the two possible ways that the photos reached the magazine is through the friend or someone deliberately sent them from the phone. Irrespective of how the photos leaked, the privacy rule has been breached, and appropriate disciplinary action must be taken. 

Conclusion

Both patients and healthcare practitioners will continue using smartphones and social media for various purposes, and the trend is expected to increase. Technology helps healthcare providers to share ePHI with their patients and enhance service delivery. Covered entities should take caution on how smartphones and social media is used to exchange ePHI. This is because the HIPAA security rule states that these entities become accountable for any violation by their workforce. When a patient’s photos are published in a magazine without his consent, fines and charges will be levied on the concerned parties. The HIPAA privacy rule demands that PHI should always be kept safe, and every entity should ensure that no such information is disclosed to a third party. The first mistake was made when the photos were sent to a friend. These were photos taken for personal reasons and had no medical relationship, hence should not have been taken in the first place. Legal action should be taken on all parties involved because they violated the patient’s privacy. Secondly, professional ethics and codes of conduct were violated, and at worst, such individual should be dismissed from work or any other disciplinary measure taken. From this assignment, it is clear that healthcare professionals must at all times uphold ethics and codes of conduct when using social media and smartphones. Patients’ information should be kept safely and those shared using smartphones should be encrypted.

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