0

Why Bother Adding a Social Media Policy to Your Informed Consent?

Social Media PolicyIt is customary for practitioners to review all of their practice policies and procedures as part of the initial intake process with a new client/patient.  With the recent exponential rise in the popularity of social media, it is time to consider adding a social media policy to the standard informed consent process for the benefit of both the client/patient and the clinician.  A good social media policy informs clients about how you will manage your relationship online, particularly with respect to boundary crossings, boundary violations, dual relationships, privacy and confidentiality requirements.

Developing a social media policy also affords you an opportunity to proactively consider how you want to conduct yourself online and manage online social media interaction with past, present and future clients/patients.

Why have a social media policy at all? 

With so many potential opportunities for unintended client-therapist interactions on the internet, planning ahead and establishing clarity can be prudent measures in heading off future problems even if you don’t have a social media presence now. The truth is, most of us would’ve laughed at having email contact with patients 20 years ago. Now it is routine practice for many therapists. Social media policies cover everything from your professional or personal websites, to Facebook, to how you will be using Google.

It is customary for practitioners to review all of their practice policies and procedures as part of the initial intake process with a new client/patient. With the recent exponential rise in the popularity of social media, it is time to consider adding a social media policy to the standard informed consent process for the benefit of both the client/patient and the clinician. A good social media policy informs clients about how you will manage your relationship online, particularly with respect to boundary crossings, boundary violations, dual relationships, privacy and confidentiality requirements.

Developing a social media policy also affords you an opportunity to proactively consider how you want to conduct yourself online and manage online social media interaction with past, present and future clients/patients.

Why have a social media policy at all?

With so many potential opportunities for unintended client-therapist interactions on the internet, planning ahead and establishing clarity can be prudent measures in heading off future problems even if you don’t have a social media presence now. The truth is, most of us would’ve laughed at having email contact with patients 20 years ago. Now it is routine practice for many therapists. Social media policies cover everything from your professional or personal websites, to Facebook, to how you will be using Google.

How serious is this problem?

In a survey of 227 psychotherapists, 28% reported accidentally finding client information on line. When 332 psychotherapy clients who discovered online information about their therapist were surveyed, 70% reported finding personal information about their psychotherapist online. Of this 70% a full 87% found it intentionally while 13% found it unintentionally (Kolmes & Taub, 2011; Kolmes & Taub, in press).

Electronic Communications and the Legal Record

It’s important for both clients and clinicians to recognize that electronic communications are a part of the legal record. This applies to emails, SMS messages and exchanges on social networking sites. Clients should be informed that you are printing out email and text message exchanges and including them as part of the official medical record. It is also important for clients to know that from a legal standpoint, all electronic exchanges are discoverable, whether or not they are included in the chart.

Other key points in ethical social media related practice issues include:

  • practicing online within the limits of one’s professional training
  • recognizing that it is unethical to solicit testimonials from current clients
  • informing clients/patients of your use or non-use of search engines such as Google or Bing to find additional client/patient information
  • maintaining a separate email address for personal and professional communication

Privacy Settings On Media Sites

Carefully managing privacy settings on popular media sites like Facebook or LinkedIn is required because these large websites often change their policies without notifying users. It is essential then, that practitioners monitor their privacy settings on websites that contain information that might compromise their professional relationships with clients and patients. Close monitoring of these sites insures a healthy boundary for practitioners wanting a clear delineation between their personal and professional online lives.

Passive GPS Tracking

A relatively new development that must be considered is “passive location based cell phone tracking” through services like Google Places or Foursquare. A comprehensive social media policy may need to include a statement educating the client about how this type of service has the potential for compromising confidentiality. For clinicians wanting privacy in their personal lives, awareness that passive location based services or “check-ins” can broadcast your personal comings-and goings in your local geographic environment throughout the Internet. Such information could deliver more personal information to your clients that you intend.

Social Media Policy Checklist:

  • Email Policy
  • Social Networking Behavior
  • How clients should interact with you
  • How they can expect you to respond
  • If and under what circumstances you use search engines in your practice
  • Client testimonial sites
  • Location-based check in sites

Resources

A comprehensive sample Social Media Policy created by Dr. Kolmes is available for review and discussion with your attorney.

References

  1. Kolmes, K., Taube, D.O. (in press). Seeking and Finding Our Clients on the Internet: Boundary Considerations in Cyberspace. Professional Psychology: Research and Practice.
  2. Kolmes, K. & Taube, D.O. (2011) Summary of client-therapist encounters on the web: The client experience. [PPT file]. Retrieved June 2011, from http://drkkolmes.com/research/

Rate this post!

(1 raters, 5 scores, average: 5.00 out of 5)

Leave a Reply

Name and email are required. Your email address will not be published.

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.