Employee Makes Fun of Patient on Facebook

By Christina Thielst
08:18 AM

When will our employees learn not to identify patients on Facebook or any other social media site?  This recent example goes beyond a simple error in judgment to a complete disregard for patient privacy and respect by the employee of a staffing agency working at a hospital in Southern California.

The patient involved sought treatment for an STD and the employee took a picture of her medical record and posted it on his Facebook page with the comment:  "Funny, but this patient came in to cure her VD and get birth control."

I've read the article a couple of times and discussed it with other healthcare leaders. The following come to mind:

1.  First, there is the policy and staff training/education that must occur by all providers on social media in the healthcare setting.

2.  Beyond the policy and training, we need to consider the character of the person we are hiring or bringing into our environment of care.  They may be the best ER nurse in the world, but if they have a complete disregard for patient privacy and respect, you may not want them working with your patients.

3.  Clues may come from looking at what it is like to work with someone.  This agency employee's response to the post is that he would leave the post up and he writes:

"People, it's just Facebook... Not reality.  Hello?  Again...It's just a name out of millions and millions of names.  If some people can't appreciate my humor than tough.  And if you don't like it too bad because it's my wall and I'll post what I want to. Cheers!"

Is this his attitude with co-workers about other disagreements?  Is this really someone we want working in healthcare or any other caring profession?

4. Contracts with vendors, including staffing agencies, should already address their employee use of social media ... in line with your organization's policy.  And, their staff should be trained before they are allowed to begin working with your patients and in your healthcare environment.

5. The younger generations of healthcare workers are using social media, especially on mobile devices, on a daily and hourly basis.  As healthcare leaders, we need to educate and guide them in understanding the boundaries between their personal and professional lives. 

6.  As Thomas Friedman states in his book, The World is Flat, "we {as healthcare leaders} really do have to find ways to affect the imagination of those who would use the tools of collaboration to destroy the world that has invented those tools."

7.  Disbarment:  The Feds have a list of disbarred individuals who have inappropriately used federal funds.  I think it is time that they create a new list of individuals who are disbared from ever caring, treating or working around Federal beneficiaries.  This guy should be first on the list!


Christina Thielst is a hospital and healthcare administrator who has been blogging since 2005. Topics covered on her blog, Christina's Considerations, include hospitals, health information technology and exchange, social media, and  telehealth.