HIPAA, Social Media, and Technology
A Guide for Mental Health Professionals

Chapter 3: An Introduction to Social Media Standards for Mental Health Professionals
Part 2: Social Media Risks for Psychologists
What Psychologists Should Know about Defamation Lawsuits

We mentioned above that breaches of confidentiality can lead to defamation lawsuits. But if you're not a legal professional, defamation may still be a big scare word that is hard to dissect.

Here's what you need to know.

Defamation occurs when someone makes a false statement about another person that causes that person some type of harm, be it emotional, reputational, or financial. According to AllLaw.com New browser window icon., in order to qualify as defamatory, that statement must…

  • Be published (so that someone else can see it).
  • Be false.
  • Result in harm.

A statement is considered defamatory if it's published, false, and causes harm.

You can probably see why publishing someone's confidential mental health information on social media or blogs could cause that person reputational, financial, or emotional harm. Perhaps the patient's employer questioned whether or not to fire them because of your statements about their alleged drug abuse. But could that statement meet the other criterion of being false if what you wrote is true?

It really depends on the court that tries the case. Some could interpret your professional insights about the patient as subjective, which could be construed as false. Others may not.

As a last note on this topic, keep in mind that your General Liability Insurance can address lawsuits over advertising injuries including…

  • Libel or slander. If you're sued over defamatory statements published on your blog or social media page, your coverage can address legal expenses.
  • Misappropriation. You can be sued if you use someone's words, testimony, or experience to promote your practice without their consent. Though you may not be directly advertising your services, blogging about your patients could be interpreted as promoting your work.
  • Privacy violations. Again, using a patient's case without their consent could land your practice in hot water.

Be sure to talk to an agent about getting the appropriate insurance for your psychology practice.

General Liability Insurance can address lawsuits over defamation and invasion of privacy.

Next: Psychologists: How to Walk the Ethical Tightrope on Social Media

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