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Weighing social media's risks and benefits

April 24, 2009
by Doug Edwards
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All across the Web, social media gurus are touting the value “Internet 2.0” can bring organizations, even those in healthcare service delivery. While there could be significant benefits to using such Web 2.0 sites as MySpace, Facebook, Twitter, and the like, Dennis Sato suggests behavioral healthcare organizations take a cautious approach to this new media.

I spoke with Sato this afternoon about his views on social media. Having 30 years of health IT experience, Sato currently is the CIO at Telecare Corp., a multistate behavioral healthcare provider based in Alameda, California. Sato participated in a panel discussion about health 2.0 earlier this month at the annual HIMSS conference.

Although it might be tempting for employees to visit social media sites for personal use—even fleetingly—they need to be educated about the significant harm they can bring to their workplace by doing so, Sato explains. Social media users post links to other Web pages, and these sites can harbor viruses and other electronic risks. Plus, there’s always the chance that employees could violate HIPAA by disclosing protected health information (PHI) on such sites—even inadvertently. And harassment and other legal claims, possibly involving the employer, could arise when employees communicate with each other through social media while at work. Thus, it’s important for organizations to create policies and procedures for using social media appropriately, Sato notes. I suspect employees needed such training when e-mail first debuted, too.

Despite these risks, Sato also acknowledges social media’s benefits, such as allowing employees working on a project to communicate with these new tools. I think this networking might be particularly useful for an organization with multiple sites like Telecare, which has operations in California, Texas, Nebraska, Oregon, and North Carolina. In fact, the company may roll out a pilot to test this sort of employee communication, and Sato says executives will be examining the issue strategically to find the appropriate risk-benefit balance. Here's some more on social media:

Social media's importance

Emphasizing social media's value

The importance of social media


Doug Edwards

Vice President and Managing Director

Doug Edwards


Doug Edwards is Vice President and Managing Director of Vendome Healthcare Media’s Mental Health...

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