What’s Up, Doc? Emergency Room Doctor Fired for Posting Photos on Facebook

By Eric B. Meyer

Earlier this week, I wrote about a nurse who was fired and denied unemployment compensation benefits because, instead of medicating a patient, she was busy posting Facebook updates about a colleague who had soiled herself.

Oy!

But that’s nothing compared to the New England emergency room doctor who was fired for posting pictures of a patient on her Facebook page.

When will people every learn?

Was it a HIPAA violation?

Christopher Danzig at Above the Law reported the story last week:

Last week, an emergency room doctor in Rhode Island got reprimanded and fined $500 by the state medical board. (She had been fired from her hospital last year.)

Why? She posted information about a patient on Facebook….

Dr. Alexandra Thran, who worked at Westerly Hospital, “did not include the patient’s name, but she wrote enough that others in the community could identify the patient,” according to the Boston Globe.

Regulators in Rhode Island said Thran’s case is the first time they’ve had to deal with a physician inappropriately using social media. The Massachusetts medical board has never had to deal with it, according to the article, but it has been a problem in other parts of the country.

The Above The Law article further notes that Dr. Thran may have violated HIPAA by publishing the personal health information of an ER patient. Although not discussed in the article, Dr. Thran’s transgressions may have also exposed the hospital to potential liability.

Could this have all been avoided?

School employees on social media responsibility

I’ve posted ad nausem about why businesses need to have social media policies. But don’t just take my word on it. On Monday, I read this article at Mashable by Maria Ogneva. Ms. Ogneva is the Head of Community at Yammer, where she is in charge of social media, community programs, internal education and engagement.

Ms. Ogneva notes that, because employees are going to use social media, two of the most important steps to protect your business — other than having a social media policy — is to understand employees’ facility with social tools and to then educate them about proper social networking. This does not have to be a draconian employer-versus-employee process, but it does require that the business take a hands-on approach to social networking.

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As with any other policy that an employer promulgates, the most effective policies are those that are reasonable and are paired with training such that employees ultimately understand what is expected of them.

Finally, Ms. Ogneva suggests addressing social media problems “proactively and gently.” According to Ms Ogneva:

There will be things that go awry. It’s always better to politely point out the problematic tweet or blog comment in private. Most people want to do the right thing even if they make mistakes. Identify problem areas for your organization and create additional guidance around them.”

Let the punishment fit the crime

It sounds like the hospital did the right thing by terminating Dr. Thran. But, too often, the social media firings we read about online involve employers who overreact.

Let the “punishment” fit the crime. Often, there are many less egregious employee-social-media faux pas that employers can address with a warning and simple request to delete or correct the mistake.

If nothing less, it will keep you out of the headlines — for the wrong reasons.

This was originally published on Eric B. Meyer’s blog, The Employer Handbook.

You know that scientist in the action movie who has all the right answers if only the government would just pay attention? Eric B. Meyer, Esq. gets companies HR-compliant before the action sequence. Serving clients nationwide, Eric is a Partner at FisherBroyles, LLP, which is the largest full-service, cloud-based law firm in the world, with approximately 210 attorneys in 21 offices nationwide. Eric is also a volunteer EEOC mediator, a paid private mediator, and publisher of The Employer Handbook (www.TheEmployerHandbook.com), which is pretty much the best employment law blog ever. That, and he's been quoted in the British tabloids. #Bucketlist.

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