Friday, September 24, 2010

Educating Physicians About Social Media

Great insight and advice from Bryan Vartabedian, M.D., the author of 33 Charts on "How to Speak to Physicians About Social Media."

Dr. V was responding to a request from Susannah Fox, Associate Director - Digital Strategy at Pew Internet & American Life Project, who will be speaking on a panel at the American College of Surgeons 96th Annual Clinical Congress next month. The session title is To Tweet or Become Extinct?: Why Surgeons Need to Understand Social Networking.

As someone who regularly speaks to groups of physicians I enjoy the opportunity every time (as long as I start off by saying I'm a health care defense attorney). As a group they are always engaging and inquisitive which leads to great discussions. As Dr. V points out the legal aspects and concerns over privacy and liability will be a topic not far below the surface. Like lawyers surgeons are trained to be skeptical technicians. I see that there is a lawyer, Rebekah A. Z. Monson, who is on the panel to cover the dos and don'ts. However, I hope you (Susannah) will weave into the legal discussion the consumer health and e-patient issues that often clash with the legal implications. Don't let the legal issues stand alone.

Dr. V's advice of ". . . discussion of patient-specific issues in public forums is off limits; discussion of patient non-specific issues is encouraged. Any attempt at patient-initiated discussion of specific medical issues immediately goes offline and onto the EMR for issues of record, liability and safety . . ." is excellent. I also like Dr. V's ethical dilemma recommendation for a possible case study approach during the discussion. One example you may want to explore using to address the clash between physician as authoritarian (transparency issue that Dr. V discusses) vs. patient as engaged consumer (e-patient) is the story of Johathan Zittrain's crowdsourcing his diagnosis. His story presents many great angles on social media's use in the health care environment by e-patients.

As for the legal implications of social media if you want to bone up on the topic take a look at the article I co-authored for AHLA earlier this year on the legal implications of health care social media, Risky Business: Treating Tweeting the Symptoms of Social Media.

Good luck Susannah and break a leg (no worries - there will be plenty of docs around to take care of you)!

Tuesday, September 21, 2010

HIPAA Prosecution: Former UPMC Employee Indicted

The United States Attorney's Office Western District of Pennsylvania issued a press release providing details of their first HIPAA privacy prosecution. The federal grand jury in Pittsburgh issued a 14 count indicted naming Paul C. Pepala.

The press release provides the following details:
According to the indictment, in February 2008, Pepala, then employed at UPMC Shadyside Hospital, disclosed to others names, birth dates and Social Security numbers of patients for personal gain, in violation of federal HIPAA laws, and disclosed Social Security numbers to other persons without their authorization. This information was used to file false tax returns in 2008. Pepala was also charged with violating the Social Security Act by disclosing Social Security numbers in violation of federal law.

The law provides for a maximum total sentence of 80 years in prison, a fine of $4,730,000, or both. Under the Federal Sentencing Guidelines, the actual sentence imposed would be based upon the seriousness of the offenses and the prior criminal history, if any, of the defendant.

Agents of the United States Postal Inspection Service, Internal Revenue Service and United States Secret Service conducted the investigation leading to the indictment in this case.