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Healthcare providers should use social media research as a defense tool when sued by employees and physicians, says Philip Becnel, managing partner of Dinolt Becnel & Wells Investigative Group in Arlington, VA. A private investigator, Becnel handles many healthcare cases, which involves interviewing employees about their work situations and conducting background checks into their social media postings.
"It’s how people communicate now, and a good percentage of our cases have a social media component," he says. "It’s sort of standard now in the defense attorney’s playbook to request the records of those communications. The first thing we do now is get their identification and download every single tweet and post on their accounts. There’s a lot of evidence out there just for the taking."
Even without a lawsuit, healthcare providers would benefit from monitoring social media, Becnel says. Posts might not violate HIPAA or other restrictions, but they still can be useful in alerting administrators of policy violations, a growing unease among employees, or potentially unsafe practices. Having a strong social media policy will provide a basis for investigating an individual’s posts and also justify punitive action, he notes.
"If you don’t have a good policy, and the employee does something to hurt the employer, you don’t really have any right to investigate that person’s social media without first notifying the employee," Becnel explains. "Once you notify them, they can delete the content and stymie the investigation."
Social media posts also can be used to show that an employee was unhappy in the job for some time before being dismissed. That record of unhappiness can help defend against claims that the employee was unfairly forced out of the job, Becnel says.
"The employer can go back and show that he was unhappy with his job for a year before this incident, and that was the real reason you quit, not because of this one incident where you say we treated you unfairly," he says.