Social Media Legal Considerations for Dentistry

As social media use in dentistry evolves, questions, quandaries, and unfortunately legal risks grow too. I recently had the pleasure of presenting alongside the brilliant Dr. Michael R. Ragan, D.M.D, J.D., LLM, attorney and dentist. Dr. Ragan presented on legal considerations in social media and I presented on social media marketing. Below is my interpretation of tips I heard from Dr. Ragan’s excellent presentation. To clarify, I am not an attorney, nor am I qualified to give legal advice.

1. Informed consent

Signed consent must be given by patients before using the patient’s name, photo, video, x-ray, image, etc. online and in social media.Consent forms are legal documents. Dr. Ragan suggested that practices ask their local, state, or national dental associations for direction on where to access consent forms. Or check with your legal counsel for advice.

2. Negative reviews

When it comes to online reviews and comments, be sure to adhere to HIPAA regulations. Dr. Ragan said, “Don’t wrestle with a pig in the mud. You’ll get dirty and the pig likes it.” In general ignore responding to negative reviews or comments, otherwise you risk igniting more issues.

3. Team policies

Implement policies for your team—this includes employee policies or handbooks regarding employees use of social media. Train employees about the importance of HIPAA and social media.

4. Privacy settings

If you are going to participate in social media on a personal level, you need to commit to keep up with changes in order to maintain as much privacy as possible. Social media tools are very dynamic and it’s up to you to be informed.

5. Professionalism

We leave a permanent footprint with our social media. Even if you delete posts, screenshots happen. A JAMA 2011 study of Physician’s Professionalism on Twitter revealed numerous unprofessional tweets including potential patient privacy violations, profanity, and sexually explicit posts. The public, and your future, is watching so think twice before you post. There were several other important questions raised during our discussion—stay tuned for updates as I learn of them. It seems the law, associations, and leadership in general will need to keep informed of the way our profession uses social media, how it impacts our patients, and what we need to do to comply with regulations. At the same time, let’s not forget social media’s powerful ability to improve communication and enhance relationships with patients, colleagues and business partners.

7 thoughts on “Social Media Legal Considerations for Dentistry

  1. Hi Rita! I love this article and feel it is very important for all of us to be mindful of each of these steps as we venture out across the various social media channels. The only item that I take some exception with is #2. Overall I completely agree with “Don’t wrestle with a pig in the mud. You’ll get dirty and the pig likes it.” That said, I believe that with mindfulness, responding professionally to a negative comment can, in fact, make any “audience” aware of your elegance in handling a difficult situation and that, in fact, you are the engaged and concerned customer service business that you are striving to be. When negative reviews are left hanging with no intelligent and well thought out (not getting dirty) response, the audience may move on. If, however, they see a mature and professional response, this may compel them to pursue looking further into this intriguing business. To paraphrase one of my Dad’s favorite expressions….always be the one that comes out smelling like a rose.
    Thanks for a great article Rita!

  2. Hi Claudia! Thank you for sharing your thoughts. I apologize for the slow response – I was away on vacation the past week.

    I completely agree not all reviews can be handled identically. I used the words “in general” and intended to stress that HIPAA is the most important consideration in responding to reviews… In specific cases where ie: HIPAA violation (or other legal issue) responses would create bigger problems for a practice than the review, it’s best to walk away. Otherwise, use social norms to determine what the best course of action is 🙂

  3. Thank you for this addition info on social media marketing. With regards to the HIPPA situations. If within an dental office the practice holds drawings and contests on their social media accounts, would the practice actually need a release formed signed by a patient if they were to announce that patient’s name on social media as a winner? or if the practice were to share a review on facebook that a patient wrote on another online platform?

  4. Hi Elisabeth – Thank you for reading and taking time to share your thoughts. I reached out to one of my compliance and risk management advisors, Linda Harvey, about your questions. After talking with Linda, I recommend you contact her directly – she provides hourly consultation and can address risk management questions specific to your practice and details. I hope you find the resource helpful. Keep me posted.

Comments are closed.