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News & Events


Swale Quoted in Puget Sound Business Journal Regarding Social Media in the Health Care Industry

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Lane Powell Shareholder Sarah Swale was quoted in the September 2 issue of Puget Sound Business Journal in the article “Ouch! Social Media Crashes into Medical Privacy Rules.” The article discussed how social media may cause legal repercussions for companies in the medical industry, which are bound legally and ethically to safeguard their patients’ and residents’ privacy. In the article, Swale discussed how it may take several years before a set of rulings will be established regarding social media regulations in the health care industry.

Overall, it’s a brave new world for the health care industry when it comes to social media, says Seattle attorney Sarah Swale, with the firm Lane Powell, who follows such issues. Twitter and Facebook may seem old hat to many users, but in terms of the law, they still are very new, and there is little case precedent to rely on. It’s likely going to take several years for a significant set of rulings to clarify limits on social media postings, photos sent by cell phones or blogs kept by employees. Though technology changes quickly … the wheels of litigation move slowly. It’s difficult to get ahead of it because it is so new and we don’t have decisions on it yet.

There isn’t a perfect employee policy, and Swale doesn’t believe there is any generic version that will work for all health care organizations, given the untested ramifications of many actions in social media. ‘Friending’ a patient on Facebook, for example, could be an amicable gesture — or an illegal disclosure of a patient’s conditions. Once you friend a patient on Facebook, is it a HIPPA violation? That’s an issue, a big issue. Even a seemingly warm gesture such as posting a picture of a nursing home resident’s birthday party on an employee’s Facebook page could be problematic. We have all these new questions and little tiny answers coming out. There’s not enough to get a big picture.

Read the article (PDF).