Social media presence can benefit pharmacies

December 10, 2014

Ten tips for managing a pharmacy social media account.

Developing a social media presence gives pharmacies an opportunity to interact with patients and consumers, build relationships, participate in the community, and expand their businesses.

More than 70% of U.S. adults are engaged with social media, on platforms such as Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, YouTube, and Pinterest. Adults ages 45 to 54 represent the fastest growing demographic on both Facebook and Google Plus. Even seniors 65 and older are involved with social media, according to Jessica Skelley, PharmD, BCACP, who spoke about social media policies during the National Community Pharmacists Association annual convention in Austin, Texas.eveloping a social media presence gives pharmacies an opportunity to interact with patients and consumers, build relationships, participate in the community, and expand their businesses.

“From a business perspective, you need to know who is using it and who your audience is,” said Skelley, assistant professor of pharmacy practice, Samford University, McWhorter School of Pharmacy, Birmingham, Ala.

Use of social media is an excellent way to market your pharmacy to potential customers and patients, Skelley said. “As of 2012, effective use of Facebook and Twitter improved the bottom lines of small businesses by as much as 43% when used in the right way,” she continued. “As healthcare professionals, we need to use it safely - within the realms of the law.”

A growing presence

More than 25% of U.S. hospitals have established a social media presence, and that continues to grow each year. In Skelley’s hometown of Birmingham, Ala., the University of Alabama at Birmingham, a large health system, initiated a social media campaign last year with promotional and informational posts announcing some of its current projects. The use of social media can be quite effective, said Skelley, if appropriately implemented.

What people say on social media can be influential. Statistics reveal that most young adults in the 18- to 34-year-old age group trust medical information that is shared by peers on their social media networks. Also, more than 40% have said that social media could influence their choice of a doctor or hospital.

“So you could be led to believe that it could also influence their choice of a pharmacy as well,” Skelley said.

Issues and challenges

Pharmacists active in social media should be aware of the challenges and issues
associated with their use. These include patient privacy, fraud and abuse, tax-exempt status, and licensing, Skelley said during her presentation.

Violations on social media vary in severity. The worst are unlawful, such as HIPAA violations. Speech and photos posted on social media, which are legal, may also be problematic for the state licensing board and/or employers. Other postings on social media platforms can reflect poorly on the poster’s professional judgment and may damage a pharmacist’s professional aspirations.

In connection with patient privacy, pharmacists need to be careful not to reveal information that could identify a specific patient in a posting.

“You can violate HIPAA easily without disclosing actual patient health information, such as disclosing a patient’s name or a date of birth, because the test is whether someone could reasonably figure who it is you are talking about,” Skelley said.

Healthcare professionals and medical students need to be aware that any details of a patient case may reveal someone’s identity and that violating HIPAA, even unintentionally, has legal implications, she said.

 

ASHP guidance

The American Society of Health-System Pharmacists (ASHP) provides guidance for pharmacy professionals who use social media, with specific sections on patient privacy and professionalism. ASHP encourages pharmacists to use social media, Skelley said, but it must be done in a responsible manner. In its statement, ASHP recommends that pharmacy professionals “employ established best practices to ensure compliance with privacy requirements when communicating with patients or about specific patient cases on social media.”

When healthcare professionals communicate with each other, they are obligated to protect patient privacy and confidentiality under all circumstances, including when they use social media. ASHP suggests that pharmacists make sure that privacy settings have been selected in social media accounts to protect PHI. These privacy settings should be continuously monitored because social media sites may alter their privacy practices.

Professionalism matters

Pharmacists are among the most trusted healthcare professionals, along with nurses and physicians. Because pharmacists are members of a highly visible profession, it is important that they be aware of the public image they present in various social media platforms.

ASHP recommends that pharmacists use extreme care if they offer medical advice and understand their obligations and liabilities when doing so. For example, if a pharmacy patient asks for medical advice through a social media platform, it would be best to ask the patient to come to the pharmacy to speak directly with the pharmacist.

Any medical advice delivered through social media could be construed as a patient-provider relationship and could cause liability issues in terms of licensing, especially if the patient is located in another state, Skelley said.

The use of social media provides opportunities to educate patients and practitioners, promote the profession and the role of the pharmacist, and debate healthcare issues and policy. Professionalism is required at all times in social media interactions, ASHP noted in its statement.

Skelley summed it up best: “Think before you post. Pause before you post. Protect your own privacy and your patient’s privacy.”  

General tips for a business social media account

1. Create a separate business account and keep it separate from your personal account.

2. Provide news from reputable sources, such as FDA and CDC.

3. Promote your pharmacy events and seasonal services using social media.

4. Be organized with your social media accounts; know your audience; know what you are posting.

5. Create a schedule for posting and keep your posts short.

6. Create a social media flow chart to know how to respond to interactions with patients and consumers.

7. Engage consumers and patients by asking questions occasionally.

8. Be consistent with your posts to keep your accounts up to date.

9. Consider posting between 9 am and 5 pm when individuals are most likely to be engaged and share your posts.

10. Create a policy for social media for your business and your employees.

Source: Jessica Skelley, PharmD, BCACP