There's some chatter on the web, mostly propagated by an op-ed piece by Dr. Katherine Chretien, that HIPAA may be cracking down on patient-doctor interactions online. The gist of Dr. Chretien's piece goes something like this: "The mere existence of a patient-physician relationship (e.g. having others suspect a Facebook friend is a patient) could be a violation of HIPAA."
In other words, being friends with a patient on Facebook could be construed as a HIPAA violation because another person could construe (through conjecture) that your friend may also be your patient.
Here's my question: what if you're a small town chiropractor who knows everyone in your community? Imagine you were raised in the same community as most of your patients and you've known them intimately for most of your life. Your friendly relationship precedes your professional relationship BUT, according to this interpretation of HIPAA, you are forced to deny their friend requests on Facebook in order to comply with HIPAA. You've effectively isolated yourself from a significant portion of your community.
I'll extend this idea to its next logical step: imagine a virulent and deadly disease hits America. In a normal, unregulated world, we would use social media as a platform to rapidly inform our communities of the danger and we'd be able to save hundreds, thousands, or even millions of lives by rapidly responding to the outbreak.
But if Dr. Chretien's interpretation becomes the norm, you'll be largely shut off from your community and left helpless in my earlier scenario.
In my personal opinion, the benefits of promoting doctor-community interaction dramatically outweighs the paranoia of HIPAA policy nuts. If patient privacy is the concern, we need to implement guidelines for doctor-patient interaction online, not ban it.
What are your thoughts? How would stricter HIPAA policies affect you?
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