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PEARLS: Public Education & Awareness Outreach Publication Subcommittee
Expanding Pharmacy's Reach One Tweet At a Time!
by Andrew Merker, PharmD, BCPS, BCIDP, AAHIVP; Assistant Professor, Midwestern University College of Pharmacy - Downers Grove; NISHP President
Importance of a Pharmacy Social Media Presence
Social media platforms (SMP), such as Twitter, Facebook, Instagram, and LinkedIn, have shown to be powerful tools for communicating and sharing information. Pharmacists have a unique position to disseminate essential and influential information to patients as well as friends and family.
Utilizing social media in an informative and professional manner can increase public awareness regarding the pharmacist’s role in the healthcare setting. Additionally, a trusted pharmacist who shares or disseminates useful and accurate healthcare information through social media can educate the public in an ever-changing healthcare world.
Potential Applications for Social Media Platforms
- Marketing for a pharmacy
- Disseminating vital health care information
- Rebuttal of inaccurate health care information
- Developing and maintaining patient-pharmacist and provider-pharmacist relationships
- Developing and maintaining relationships with pharmacist colleagues
- Advocating for disease states, patient care, and the pharmacy profession
Benefits and Potential Consequences of a Social Media Presence
Utilizing and communicating through SMP can have several potential benefits. Friends, family, and the general public can receive greater pharmacist accessibility from a trusted source. With this accessibility, it can help empower social media users regarding disease states or their medications. Pharmacists can impact conversations regarding challenging healthcare-related issues and provide social media users with accurate and vital information. The dissemination of such information can increase the visibility of pharmacists within the healthcare field to the public and spread awareness of the role pharmacists play in patient care.
Although SMP can be a convenient method for patient, pharmacy, and healthcare advocacy, it is crucial to understand the potential limitations and when a patient or potential social media audience would be best served through other means. Maintaining patient privacy is a must to avoid potential HIPAA violations. Even when using a personal social media account, it is important to manage the pharmacist’s persona on the SMP professionally as inappropriate posts can harm the individual pharmacist’s and the pharmacy profession’s reputation.
Recommendations for Utilizing Social Media Platforms
Direct Patient Care - Be cautious when providing individualized patient recommendations for care over SMP. There are several concerns about providing such recommendations that include maintaining patient confidentiality, an incomplete understanding and knowledge of the patient's medical history, and the obligations/liabilities associated with developing a pharmacist-patient relationship.
Maintain Professionalism and Reputation - Regardless of healthcare or non-healthcare-related posts, it is crucial to maintain the pharmacy profession's high professional standards. SMP should not be used to complain about patient encounters as this does not advance the pharmacy profession or protect patients' dignity. Posting inappropriate or unprofessional content, regardless of who the posts are directed to or if they include non-healthcare content, can harm an individual pharmacist’s reputation and impair the public’s trust in the profession. When discussing information with SMP users, it is essential to maintain civility and avoid disparaging remarks.
Ensure Privacy - Sharing healthcare information, including protected health information (such as name, email address, pictures, addresses), could be a potential HIPAA violation that may result in civil or criminal offenses. Avoid discussing patient-specific information in a public or non-encrypted online environment. Discussing patient information in these settings has several patient identifiers attached to it. If individuals ask to discuss personal data, it may be best to discuss it personally or over the phone in a private setting.
Disseminate Accurate Information - Healthcare information distributed through SMP should be in accordance with the professional standards of pharmacy practice and originate from well trusted, reputable organizations. Providing inaccurate information that does not comply with pharmacy practice standards can result in patient harm, decreased trust in the individual pharmacist and the pharmacy profession. Before posting, the pharmacist should be well versed in the topic subject.
Conflict of Interest - Before posting statements involving the promotion of a business or potential financial benefits for the pharmacist posting, declaring a potential conflict of interest is vital to allow the patient/public to understand possible user bias.
Review Institutional Policies - Employers or institutions may have policies in place that involve employees posting information or comments on SMP relating to professional or healthcare-related activities on personal SMP. Before using SMP in a healthcare-related manner, review institutional policies.
Pharmacists are consistently one of the most trusted professions by the public. Social media platforms allow pharmacist users to quickly and easily share their knowledge and expertise with a large number of people. The potential benefits are limitless, and pharmacists and pharmacy organizations should promote SMP use in this setting. When maintaining an SMP persona, it is important to remember that it should be done professionally, regardless of how it is being used. When providing education through online sources, pharmacists should employ the high standard of pharmacy practice to ensure information is accurate and trusted to advance the interests of the public and the pharmacy profession.
If you’re new to posting pharmacy and healthcare-related topics on social media or don’t know what to post, make sure to follow ICHP on Facebook and Twitter. These social media feeds will be posting information regarding the pharmacist's role in health care that can be used to start conversations on important topics, such as vaccinations, opioid antidotes, and monitoring blood pressure. Feel free to share these posts on your social media feeds and help your friends and family stay informed on the services pharmacists can provide!