Social Media Presence Offers Benefits to Pharmacies

By Talsma, Julia | Drug Topics, December 2014 | Go to article overview

Social Media Presence Offers Benefits to Pharmacies


Talsma, Julia, Drug Topics


Responsible use necessary to avoid pitfalls, such as HIPAA violations

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, YouThbe, 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.

"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 Skelle/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 HEPAA 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 HEPAA 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 HEPAA, 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. …

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