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

Chapter 3: An Introduction to Social Media Standards for Mental Health Professionals
Part 1: Social Media Risks for Social Workers
On Privacy & Confidentiality

Say you're assigned to a psychiatric client's case, and you discover they have been admitted because of threats of self-harm. You decide to check their Facebook page to see if they have a history of self-harm or have talked about suicide in the past. Seems professional enough, right?

According to Kathryn Chernack New browser window icon., the chair of the National Association of Social Workers' New York State Chapter Ethics Committee, depending on your motives, this kind of background searching actually runs against established social worker standards of practice. According to the ethics code, you're not supposed to seek out information that the patient doesn't want to share.

NASW discourages social workers from scoping out a client's social media profiles if they don't want to share.

There are exceptions to this rule. If you work in the emergency room and you use social media searches for the patient's immediate safety or recovery, most would agree you're acting appropriately. However, if you launch the search out of curiosity, it's a violation of the patient's privacy.

This is why the NASW discourages friending or following patients on social networking sites. It's too easy to blur the lines between professional action and idle curiosity.

Next: On Legal Liability

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