Tuesday, October 13, 2009

Shutting down social media? Not here.

The following email message was broadcast last week in a Boston hospital. Of course, you can guess my view of this: Any form of communication (even conversations in the elevator!) can violate important privacy rules, but limiting people's access to social media in the workplace will mainly inhibit the growth of community and discourage useful information sharing. It also creates a generational gap, in that Facebook, in particular, is often the medium of choice for people of a certain age. I often get many useful suggestions from staff in their 20's and 30's who tend not to use email. Finally, consider the cost of building and using tools that attempt to "track utilization and monitor content." Not worth the effort, I say.

Good morning,

Effective immediately, the Hospital is blocking access to social networking sites including Facebook, MySpace, and Twitter from all Hospital computers.

The decision is based on recent evidence that some employees have been using these sites to comment on Hospital business, which is a violation of the Hospital’s Electronic Communications policy and a potential HIPAA violation.

The Executive Team will be working in the coming months to ensure that we have written policies in place that articulate the appropriate use of social networking sites while on duty at the Hospital. Once these written policies are in place, we have educated all employees about expectations and disciplinary action associated with violating the policies, and we have the appropriate IS tools in place to track utilization and monitor content, we will consider once again providing access to these sites. We expect this will take a period of about 6 months.

In the interim, please note that the Electronic Communication policy states that “incidental personal use of electronic communications systems may be allowed so long as such use does not consume more than a trivial amount of resources, interfere with staff productivity, preempt any business activity or violate Hospital policy”.

Employees are free to use Hospital computers during their break periods to check personal email, or access the Internet, but you should be aware that the policy also states, “employees should not have any expectation of privacy with respect to any information on Hospital electronic communication systems or the contents thereof, including email, internet usage, voicemail, fax or other similar vehicles. [The hospital] reserves the right to monitor, review and inspect all uses and the contents thereof.

Should you have any questions or concerns, please feel free to contact me.


Anonymous said...

I have been on the front lines of this issue. There are a lot of people that want to turn back the hands of time. Blocking facebook seems like a simple solution if you look at social networking as a problem.

It is a lot more complex. This is the way many people communicate today. What do we want our workforce to look like? Where I work we know we need a tech savvy work force.

Anonymous said...

Hahahaa! Thanks for making my day on your first day back! Such totalitarian efforts generate fear and mistrust and are ultimately counterproductive. Better to engage your employees so they WANT to work.Besides, how will the monitoring distinguish between looking at Facebook on your break and during work time?
And how much are you having to pay the monitors?
Even funnier is that they cited 'comment on hospital business' - could that have been a critical comment, perchance?
Having said that,a longtime employee of my hospital was arrested for viewing child porn on a hospital computer - an extreme example, and he probably would have been caught the old fashioned way (somone seeing his screen) eventually anyway.


Monique said...

Paul's note: A comment transferred over from Facebook:

Good choice. Social Media is an important tool in so many ways - establishing trust, supporting your customers/patients, marketing, sales, positioning yourself as cutting edge, painting a human face on your organization. I am a HUGE evangelist for it in my position as E-Business Mgr, and I love that you're taking this stance!!!

Marlo Dee said...

If you total up the number of people who use Facebook, you have the 4th largest country in the world.

Who wants to stop the 4th largest country in the world from communicating?

(By the way, BIDMC has a great facebook page "Healthy Living with BIDMC.")

Anonymous said...

The turth is that the policy you mentioned in your post is pretty libral. Many hospitals do not allow any use of hospital equipment for personal use. With the iPhone so popular many hospital staff are just using their phones to access facebook and other social media. These polocies are much like trying to stop a train with a rubber band.

Jim Hughes said...

In addition, hospitals that block social media for employees normally also do so for patients and families. Since facebook is now a primary way to keep friends and family informed, that's a huge disservice.

Dave said...

I think that in this case HIPAA may be an excuse to block such sites that are seen as hindering productivity. Interesting thing is moderate internet use has been shown to boost productivity:

The key (as always) is moderation.

Ten out of Ten said...

Where I work they have facebook blocked on hospital computers, so everyone just accesses their accounts from their smartphones.

Anonymous said...

HIPAA is a read herring that tends to get tossed around so that no more questions will be asked.

Medical Quack said...

This is just a quick opinion on my part here, but possibly some of these rulings may come about from decisions made by those who have never engaged in social networks to see the value. If they haven't engaged, then they might be missing a big boat here.

Anonymous said...

From what I hear many companies are blocking these social networking sites not because it has an effect on worker productivity, but because of the spread viruses through this relatively new medium.
Most users are aware of threats from downloading files through email, but many may not know about the dangers in installing applications, downloading pictures, etc. on their accounts.

Dr. Val said...

Good for you, Paul. We look forward to having you join our medblog social media panel at Blog World Expo on Thursday! Take that, other-hospital that-wants-to-block-Facebook. :)

Bwana said...

You took your wife to Amalfi for her birthday. And her friends got to visit too. What a nice thing to do for your wife, your friends, and hopefully yourself!! It was great fun. The photos of the steps do not do justice to the day we walked up the 342 steps to the grocery store after having walked up the initial 117 to the front gate of the villa.

As for this post on social networks, two points:

1. If people are discussing hospital business disparagingly (presumably admin wouldn't care if the comments were compliments) there is a bigger problem.

2. I cannot help, as much as I hate Fux Newz and its inane coverage, thinking that the Obama Administration and this hospital will live to rue the day when they made decisions that reek of censorship or collective punishment for minimalist transgressions.


Shel said...

I have posted an item on your post to my "Stop Blocking" site, which seeks to aggregate resources to make it easier for organizations to make the case to maintain employee access to social networks. The post includes a link to this post. Thanks for reporting on it, Paul. Here's the link:

Nancy Barnes said...

Thank you for affirming what I believe. Censorship of social media by the employer will not prevent the employee from wasting time, nor prevent the introduction of viruses into the local intranet. These are much greater issues that have nothing to do with whether or not someone uses Facebook or Twitter on their office computer.

Unknown said...

Here I am, leaving two comments on the same post, but this one is too good to ignore and too scary. The Guardian (UK) reports that it is prevented from reporting on proceedings in Parliament pursuant to a gag order. In case you think this sort of thing could not happen in the US, remember that Britain too has freedom of the press - perhaps not as vigorously enforced as is our Constitution-based protection and our precedents solidly against prior restraints, but think again.


me said...

Well, that's foolish. If you were a business, wouldn't you want to know what people - including (and perhaps especially) your employees - are saying about you? What's next - trying to ban conversations in the copy room and at the water cooler? Ridiculous. And, good for you, Paul, for encouraging open communication through whatever medium works best.

jrmwebspace.com said...

There are good reasons to block social media sites and good reasons to not block social media sites, but to hide behind the vale of HIPAA is very short sided.

DrV said...

This perhaps shows the importance of preemptive policies that clearly spell out appropriate use of SM in the hospital. Had this been done, such drastic action wouldn't have been taken. Without boundaries there will never be confident acceptance.

Anonymous said...

Aha, the secret is out:


Dr. Keely Kolmes said...

I think a more useful approach by the hospital would be to regularly review confidentiality and HIPPA practices and remind people that even locked, private accounts are not appropriate for posting confidential hospital information.

Blocking access during the work day will not guarantee responsible use after-hours.

I, myself, have occasionally been distressed to see therapists posting about cases without regard to the fact that the client him or herself may later see it (if a public account) or that someone on their follow list may see it and identify the person if it is a locked and private account.

So again, much better to educate internet savvy users about professional identity and how to understand and manage one's professional role while still being an active user of social media.

e-Patient Dave said...

Dr. K,

Well said. A couple of things spring to mind that I think bolster your view.

First, on the "this is messy" side, John Grohol of PsychCentral posted a month ago Perhaps I should introduce you to a little something psychologists like to call human behavior." He told of a guy who covertly emailed his girlfriend a spyware program so he could spy on her; she, innocently enough, opened it on her hospital computer, whereupon the spyware spied on everything anyone did on that computer, sending him 1,000 screen grabs via email.


The other aspect, though, the inspiring one, is from Thomas Jefferson:
"I know no safe depository of the ultimate powers of the society but the people themselves; and if we think them not enlightened enough to exercise their control with a wholesome discretion, the remedy is not to take it from them, but to inform their discretion by education."

I usually hear that in the context of patient empowerment, but I think it applies here, too. Don't try to hold back the tide; teach people.

Unknown said...

My major teaching/research hospital has blocked all social media and recently tried to take it a step further and block all access to outside email servers like gmail, yahoo, etc. All of them. Plus anything containing the word "entertainment." The block on the email servers was mysteriously rescinded but all others still stand. Most people, of course, just use their phones. But blocking tools that foster positive employee relationships is a big mistake, in my opinion. Besides, it is deeply insulting to realize that the hospital (to which we all give so much) does not trust our ability to make simple judgments (about using computers appropriately, etc.) Being at work, at least for nurses, is already a lot like being in prison for 14 hours a day. My loyalty to the institution has significantly decreased. Pity.