New CARF Standard for Social Media

The May-June 2013 newsletter of Behavioral Health Resources, LLC focuses on a new CARF standard for social media.   Standard 1.G.3.b in the 2013 BH/CYS/OTP Standards Manuals isa requirement for accredited programs to implement risk management  procedures regarding communications that address social media.

An excellent resource is a book published in 2012 by Nancy Flynn, The Social Media Handbook“The Social Media Handbook: Policies and Best Practices to Effectively Management Your Organization’s Social Media Presence, Posts, and Personal Risks.”  The book provides information such as: legal compliance; how social networking creates legal evidence; how to manage records and e-discovery compliantly; privacy, security, and social media; risks associated with blogs and mobile devices; conducting a social media policy audit; writing effective social media policies; responding to and recovering from a social networking nightmare; sample policies for social media, blogs, and related AUPs.  Chapter 15 is a glossary of social media, legal, regulatory, and technology terms.

Click here to obtain a social media policy for a CARF-accredited organization that is available in the public domain.

Even if it enrages your boss, social net speech is protected.  “As Facebook and Twitter become as central to workplace conversation as the company cafeteria, federal regulators are ordering employers to scale back policies that limit what workers can say online.”  Click here to read more about the topic from the January 21, 2013 article of the New York Times.

Is it ethically and legally appropriate for a behavioral health provider to engage in social media networking through sites like Facebook and LinkedIn?

The following is from an article by Healthcare Providers Service Organization (HPSO), a professional liability insurance company affiliated with the American Counseling Association (ACA).

HPSOThe answer is that it depends on how you’re using the sites and what you’re doing to protect client confidentiality and avoid boundary violations.  Those are currently the biggest areas of concern in using social media. The ACA Code of Ethics (2005) is in the process of being revised, as are many state licensure laws, so all counselors are advised to be aware of upcoming changes in ethics and law regarding social media and other uses of technology.

If you or your employees intentionally or inadvertently disclose confidential client information on social networking sites, that could pose an ethics violation and lead to legal problems under HIPAA, HITECH and state law.  The HITECH regulations supplement HIPAA and require “covered entities” (including most counselors in private practice) and “business associates” of covered entities to take certain action in the event of a breach of protected health information.  If you are supervising counselors or students, you should also take care to ensure they are following your practice’s HIPAA policies and procedures.  If a breach occurred, the HITECH regulations would require you to perform a risk assessment and take action, such as formal notice to clients adversely affected by the breach and notice to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services.

One lasting problem with social networking sites is that information posted cannot be removed.  Additionally, if information is reposted by a person to another page, you may lose control of who sees potentially confidential information.  A counselor who engages in social media must learn to use privacy settings appropriately.

Boundary violations regarding use of social media have led to complaints against mental health professionals in very recent years.  Clients may feel rejected if they know a counselor has agreed to be “friends” with other clients but not with them.  Counselors should consider addressing their use (or non-use) of social media through their informed consent process and documents.  It is very important to separate one’s personal use of social media from one’s professional use.

Despite the many caveats applicable to use of social media, appropriate professional use may prove beneficial to clients and counselors under controlled circumstances in order to provide resources to clients or the public.  It may provide connections to other professionals in the community that may well serve the public.  However, you must fully consider the myriad of privacy and boundary issues before “friending,” “tweeting,” or “liking.”

© 2013 Behavioral Health Resources, LLC. All rights reserved.

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One Response to New CARF Standard for Social Media

  1. As a follow-up to our blog article about social media, visit for a good article, “The Complete Guide to Developing a Social Media Policy for Your Business.”

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