Health Care and Social Media, Privacy and Confidentiality – Eric Swirsky, JD, MA

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Eric Swirsky, JD, MA

Summary: Professor Eric Swirsky discusses the changes in the health care field and how it relates to social media, privacy and confidentiality.


Well, one of the things that I’m seeing is there’s a lot of use of social media. This has implications for privacy and confidentiality which are different than those that have previously existed. The idea of confidentiality has been around for a very, very long time, long before HIPA. It’s mentioned in the Hippocratic times, and that’s really where the modern notion of it is kind of evolving from, but possibly even before the. Before it was actually codified in the Hippocratic Oath there was this notion of there needs to be private information exchanged between the clinician and the patient. Part of that was to form trust and that the clinician needs as much information as possible to be able to promote health in the patient and the patient has to then trust the doctor, and so that is one of the foundations of it.

When it comes to social media, notions of privacy and confidentiality are spun on their head because, just from the plain language of the words “social media”, there’s very little to do with privacy and confidentiality. If we’re saying something is social media, it’s something that is for public consumption and publication, where if something is private and confidential we don’t necessarily want that. Now we have this new medium where people can communicate in, in different ways. It has potential to be transformative and its impact on relationships, and it could be transformative in the relationship between a clinician and her patient. Then the question arises, is this appropriate? Is this an appropriate use of the technology? Is this the kind of relationship that we want clinicians to have with patients? Are they supposed to be friends? Are they supposed to have knowledge of each other’s families in that way? Perhaps the answer is yes, perhaps it’s no, but the questions need to at least be asked.