How to Use Social Media for Alumni Tracking and Not Violate HIPAA

How to Use Social Media for Alumni Tracking and Not Violate HIPAA Posted on July 30, 2016

When you find yourself in a somewhat saturated marketplace, it’s essential to find ways of distinguishing yourself from all the others offering competing services. In the addiction treatment industry, you can accomplish this is a number of ways.

At the front end, you’ve got to market your facility and everything you have to offer. If your treatment center isn’t findable, you’re limiting the number of people who could benefit from one of your programs. Obviously, offering high-quality treatments and services as well as staffing your facility will skilled, knowledgeable staff will be the spark that sets the whole thing aflame.

But compared to other industries, being an addiction treatment professional is beneficial because part of the experience of being in an addiction treatment program means forming an intimate relationship with a business and its brand. While the products and services offered by most companies are used in the privacy of the consumers’ homes, being in the addiction treatment industry gives you the opportunity to forge lasting relationships with people, perhaps even being a continuous resource for them after they’ve graduated from treatment and returned home.

That’s where your alumni program comes in.

The Importance of Your Alumni Program

One of the greatest threats to a recovered addict’s sobriety is a lack of reinforcement. Too often these people get out of rehab, go home, and assume that completing an addiction treatment program is all they need to get clean. As we know, that’s far from the case.

There are many things that can affect  a recovering addict’s newfound sobriety, but for the most part, they’re not things that we can control. However, an alumni program gives you the opportunity to be there for the people who complete your programs. Best of all, this support can take many different forms: you can orchestrate alumni events and gatherings, provide ongoing career or financial resources, support groups, and many other such resources. The problem, however, is how to remain in contact with your alumni in a way that’s effective for you and convenient for them.

Social Media as a Valuable Marketing Tool

Without question, social media is one of the most important technological innovations in the past several decades. Of course, the rise of mobile technology helps as well, but social media made on-demand communication and networking as simply as a couple taps of a keyboard or swipes of a touchscreen. Nowadays, at least 20 percent of the time people spend online is spent using social media. News reports suggest that teens, in particular, are spending up to nine hours per day on social media.

Similarly, social media is an important tool for businesses. Since people spend so much time on social media, it presents a major opportunity to businesses who can advertise their products and services or even communicate with both current and potential customers. It’s a great way to turn a business into a brand and to make being a patron more of a lifestyle experience.

Let’s Talk About HIPAA

Now let’s talk about the glaring issue. Those of us in medical and healthcare-related industries will be familiar with HIPAA, or the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act. Essentially, HIPAA prevents the unauthorized use and distribution of a person’s information. The purpose is for reassurance, so that people won’t have to worry about their sensitive information getting into the wrong hands after providing it to insurance companies and healthcare facilities. It’s for this reason that most companies that collect private data about their customers will also assign them some type of internal identification code, allowing them to reference the customer with the identification code rather than with personal information.

But when you’re a healthcare provider wanting to contact your patients via social media as part of an alumni program, is it wrong to use the contact information those patients provided during intake?

Alumni Program + Social Media = Genius

There’s no denying that the use of social media to maintain contact and communicate future events with members of your alumni program would seem to be an ideal scenario. When it comes down to it, it’s better to be safe than sorry. Rather than risking regulatory action, the safe bet would be to obtain authorization from patients. Perhaps during intake or prior to leaving on their last day, have them give some type of consent to your using their information to communicate with them on social media. The idea is to protect yourself and your business by ensuring that you’ve not used a patient’s information for any potentially unauthorized purposes.

However, after obtaining the proper permission, there’s no question that the use of social media to sustain an alumni program is a no-brainer. By maintaining a relationship with your patients through social media and alumni events, these individual stand a much better chance of sustaining their sobriety indefinitely. As well, this ongoing relationship with your patients is something that will serve to further distinguish your facility from the competition.

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