Pretty much everyone in the healthcare world is buzzing over a Los Angeles Times story from earlier this week that superficially made a strong case for blocking hospital employee access to Facebook.
The article, by Times reporter Molly Hennessy-Fiske, chronicled the case of 60-year-old William Wells, who died at St. Mary Medical Center in Long Beach, California, where he was brought after suffering severe knife wounds inflicted by a fellow resident of his nursing home.
Instead of focusing on treating him, an employee said, St. Mary nurses and other hospital staff did the unthinkable: They snapped photos of the dying man and posted them on Facebook.
The article chronciles a number of incidents at other hospitals involving staff violating patient privacy (and HIPAA) on Facebook, along with the fates of the nurses who posted the information (several were fired). The article has inspired conversation in the healthcare community about the need to block employee access to Facebook.
It’s a kneejerk reaction. After all, before social media, it was just as easy to share inappropriate, confidential information via email. (And, at one point in the early 1990s, organizations everywhere resisted the use of email for exactly that reason.)
Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center President and CEO Paul Levy has written perhaps the best analysis of the St. Mary case and the resulting flurry of blocking commentary. Levy’s excellent post concludes:
If you block Facebook on the hospital server, will it nonetheless be used in the wrong way by misguided people? Yes. They will use their iPhones or some other such handheld devices.
I know this sounds like the pro-gun argument, “Guns don’t kill people. People do.” However you might feel about that issue, this one is different. By blocking this medium on your hospital server, you will remove a highly effective communications tool, all because you are fearful that a few misguided people will misuse it. You trade the illusion of security for a loss of community.
In an earlier post dating back to October 2009, Levy also noted that blocking Facebook creates “a generational gap, in that Facebook, in particular, is often the medium of choice for people of a certain age. I often get many useful suggestions from staff in their 20’s and 30’s who tend not to use email.”
I’m currently reading a book, “The 2020 Workplace,” which delves deeply into the work habits and expectations of the Millennial Generation (born between 1977 and 1997); indeed, email is viewed (correctly) as an inefficient means of communication given more effective tools. As your Millennial kids how much they use email.
Blaming Facebook (or MySpace or Twitter or what-have-you) for human behavior that can be practiced with email, Usenet news groups, the telephone or in the elevator is not only misguided; it turns a blind eye to the more effective channels for communication that can actually improve communication in your institution. If you remember policies banning email in your organization in the early 90s, it’s easy to see today’s blocking policies as a failure to learn from mistakes made a mere 20 years ago.
The entire post is worth a careful reading, especially if your organization is on the brink of blocking staff access with the deluded expectation that it’ll solve a problem the roots of which have nothing at all to do with Facebook.