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Thursday Troubleshooter: Is it a HIPAA violation to invite patients to become friends on Facebook?

Aug. 15, 2019
This dental hygienist invited a patient to become friends on Facebook. Did he violate HIPAA?

Problems! Who doesn't have them? If you have a problem or concern in your dental office position, chances are pretty good someone else in the profession shares the same problem. Share your concerns with Team Troubleshooter. The experts will examine your issues and provide guidance. Send your questions to [email protected].

QUESTION: I’m a dental hygienist. I recently saw one of my patient’s Facebook profiles on the “People you may know” list on my Facebook page. I sent her a friend request. Did I violate the HIPAA law?

ANSWER FROM ALEJANDRA BROWN, Founder of Kirke Management Consulting:
Sending friend requests on Facebook does not violate HIPAA requirements, unless you include a message with your request that directly addresses the patient’s personal health information. This issue is more of a professional and personal conundrum. Do you want to cross this boundary and seem like you are not professional enough, or not cross it and come across as unapproachable? I know people in dental practices in small communities where everyone knows everyone, so becoming friends on Facebook is not a big deal.

Having said this, my advice would be to check with management first and ask if there are any policies in place regarding the use of social media to communicate directly with patients. If there are no policies, then use your best judgement and ensure that you do not share health information or any workplace stories. Even though these stories may not identify anyone by name, they might provide enough context so that someone could guess who you are referring to.


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Don't be shy! If YOU have a tough issue in your dental office that you would like addressed, send it to [email protected] for the experts to answer. Remember, you'll be helping others who share the same issue. Responses will come from various dental consultants, as well as other experts in the areas of human resources, coding, front office management, and more. These folks will assist dental professionals with their various issues on DentistryIQ because they're very familiar with the tough challenges day-to-day practice can bring. All inquiries will be answered anonymously each Thursday here on DIQ.

About the Author

Team Troubleshooter

This weekly column on DentistryIQ features questions from everyday people who work in dental practices, who have issues they would like addressed by the experts. Those who regularly take the time to answer questions include Rebecca Boartfield, Patti DiGangi, Dr. Chris Salierno, Laura Hatch, Karen Daw, Jill Townsend, Lisa Marie Spradley, Shelley Renee, Judy Kay Mausolf, Robin Morrison, Paul Edwards ... and the list is growing.

Send your question or issue for an expert to address to [email protected].. You'll be glad you did.