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You know what they say: The internet is forever.

You want to celebrate your team by sharing a photo in the hospital, shout out the latest research with an update about your lab or engage in an online discussion about the pandemic. But you also don’t want to end up in any hot water.

While your personal social media profiles are your own, as a UW Medicine employee, there are social media guidelines and policies to keep you out of posting predicaments.

Here’s what you need to know before you post.

UW Medicine social media guidelines 101

UW Medicine’s social media guidelines are meant to protect patient privacy, intellectual property rights, trade-secret information, and institutional time and property.

These things may seem like they have nothing to do with your social media accounts (puppy photos and cooking TikToks never hurt anyone), but it’s important to take a moment to check how you engage on social media.

Posts taken out of context, misattributed, or containing inaccurate or sensitive information can all be problematic.

“The internet can be a transitory space, but at the end of the day how you behave on the internet is permanent. Not only can the content you post be traced back to you, but the posts you follow, like and share can also be traced to you as an individual and, if your personal account identifies your profession, UW Medicine,” says Catherine Counts, PhD, MHA, an acting instructor in the Department of Emergency Medicine and expert in social media for health professionals.

Social media mistakes to avoid

A lot of following the social media guidelines is about avoiding posting pitfalls.

While many of these rules are common sense, they bear repeating.

Avoid violating patient privacy

“The number one rule is patient confidentiality,” Counts says. “Violating patient confidentiality is against HIPAA, the Health Information Portability and Accountability Act.”

Don’t post information, including photos, that could identify your patient or their health condition without a completed, written HIPAA authorization form signed by the patient prior to posting.

If you are sharing a case without patient authorization, you must remove any identifying information or features in images that would allow the patient, their family or friends, or any other person to be able to identify them.

This means you should blur or crop images, change details like age or gender, and check the background of any images for charts that could contain patient information.

You are also strongly encouraged to discuss whether it is appropriate to deidentify the patient information or photograph with your management team to ensure your actions align with UW Medicine’s policies and values.

Avoid sharing intellectual property rights

This includes confidential, proprietary and trade-secret information about UW Medicine, as well as its affiliates, students, employees or alumni.

One place you can get into trouble is when you start to share your research. While posting about your research is a great way to make the information more accessible, be sure to wait to post until your paper has gone through peer review.

If you aren’t sure about whether the content you want to post is a violation of intellectual properties rights, you can check with the appropriate department of the UW Copyright Connections team.

Avoid using personal social media at work

Unless you need to use social media for work purposes, avoid scrolling through your feed while you’re on the job. (Though you are free to update your story or snap friends on your breaks and meals.)

To get into the nitty gritty, social media usage should meet the “de minimis” standard. This basically means it should be brief and infrequent; have little to no cost to the institution; not be used for illegal purposes or for purposes prohibited by the institution; not be used for financial gain; not interfere with your job; and not compromise UW Medicine property, information systems or software.

You should avoid using social media on any work devices or networks. And all use of work devices to conduct private business, support outside organizations, aid campaigns and advertise for commercial purposes is prohibited.

Social media rules to follow

So, you know the hard and fast rules, but what about situations that are less clear?

Follow these recommendations to make sure you’re on the up and up.

Consider your audience

“If you represent yourself as a UW Medicine employee, people will see you wearing that hat even when you are doing things that aren’t a part of that job. Your behavior is a reflection of that role whether you are clocked in or not,” Counts says.

This is particularly true if you have a public profile, and you have students, patients or people who you don’t know following you.

Remember that what you post can be screenshotted and shared, so stick to posts you would be comfortable with your colleagues, mentors or manager reading.

Use disclaimers

As an individual, you are responsible for your social media profiles, and they do not reflect the opinion of UW Medicine and/or its affiliates.

While this is generally accepted knowledge, it never hurts to throw a disclaimer in your bio.

Adding “All opinions are my own” can help to keep you from getting in any sticky situations — whether you note you are a UW Medicine employee in your profile or not.

Think twice before posting

“You can end up hurting yourself when you post emotionally,” Counts says.

In the heat of the moment, you can end up posting something inaccurate or inappropriate. With short character counts, it’s also easy to lose some of the nuance that a longer conversation affords.

If you’re on the fence about whether to post, it’s a decent sign you shouldn’t. In a case where you are passionate, run the post by someone else to make sure it is appropriate.

“We should post about things we are passionate about, but also, just like we think before we speak, we should think before we post,” Counts says.

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