Wednesday, August 18, 2010

Hospital Workers Post Pics of Dying Man on Facebook: Highlights Need to Educate Employees on Proper Use of Social Media

So. Not. Cool.

Sixty-year-old William Wells arrived at St. Mary Medical Center's emergency room in Long Beach with more than a dozen stab wounds. According to the Los Angeles Times, his throat had been lacerated so severely, he was almost decapitated.

The first instinct of a handful of hospital workers there that day? Rather than rush to the aid of the dying man, they took pictures of him . . . and then, yes, they posted them on Facebook.
According to the Los Angeles Times news story, the hospital fired four staff members and disciplined three. At least two involved were nurses (but they apparently weren't fired).

This sad story highlights some of the challenges healthcare facilities face in today's social media frenzied culture. Hospitals and clinics struggle to balance their use of social media sites for marketing, recruiting, and advertising purposes against the need to protect patient privacy. But let me suggest that social media isn't really the problem -- the problem arises when employees make poor judgment calls when using these new online tools.  Of course, these employees should have known posting pictures of a dying man on Facebook was a bad idea.  But some privacy breaches and other workplace problems could be prevented if employers took a more concerted effort to identify their business needs and to educate employees about social media expectations.

Healthcare facilities often implement across-the-board bans of Facebook and other social networking sites at the workplace, assuming this kind of broad-brush approach will be the most effective. Managers may be forgetting that blocking workstation access to Facebook wouldn't have changed the St. Mary employees' access to their smartphone cameras and 3G mobile internet. Frankly, I don't think all-out bans of social media sites at the workplace are practical or effective.  Employers should take the time to create, communicate, and maintain a thoughtfully considered social media policy. Although some judgment calls seem intuitive, employers need to communicate their requirements and expectations to employees regarding employee use of social media.

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