A Cautionary Tale: Social Media Dos and Don’ts for Nurses

Social media. It’s a part of just about everyone’s lives these days. Most of us don’t think twice about what we might post to our personal Facebook page or to pages and groups we might follow—unless it gets us into trouble.

In August, a nurse with Texas Children’s Hospital was reportedly let go from her position after posting about a suspected measles case at the hospital. She posted on an anti-vaccine Facebook page about a toddler who had tested positive for measles

Screenshots of the now-deleted post show the nurse’s concern that the sickness was worse than she’d imagined, but that it still doesn’t alter her personal stance against vaccinations.

After learning about the posts, the nurse was terminated for posting private medical information.

Potential privacy issues with using social media

All healthcare employees must guard patient confidentiality and privacy at all times, and this extends to their use of digital communication, including social networking sites, chat rooms, blogs, and public forums. The Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act of 1996 (HIPAA) was designed to protect patients, and medical professionals must be careful about going public with anything that could be a violation.

Breeches of patient confidentiality or privacy on social media platforms can include any of the following:

  • Posting videos or photos of patients (even if the patient cannot be identified)
  • Posting videos or photos that show patient room numbers or patient records
  • Posting descriptions of patients, medial conditions, and/or treatments
  • Posting derogatory or demeaning comments about patients

Nurses and medical professionals should know that even the slightest, most insignificant detail that is shared over the Internet with someone who is not authorized to receive that information is a potential HIPAA violation. As seen in the example presented at the beginning of this article, the ramifications can be serious.

Using social media properly as a nurse

Some nurses might avoid social media—both because of the potential privacy risks involved and because they might not wish to bring their work home with them. Others realize the benefits to using social media.

Here are some recommendations on how nurses can use social media effectively and positively—while staying out of trouble.

  • Use social media to share professional information with colleagues. Facebook pages, Twitter accounts, and blogs enable medical professionals to easily share useful links to articles and videos.
  • Talk about yourself, the nursing profession, your family, your hobbies, and other interests.
  • Avoid posting anything online that you wouldn’t say directly in front of your coworkers, boss, or the human resources department.
  • Don’t be specific about who your employer is on your social media profiles.
  • Never talk about coworkers or patients online.
  • Use social media to uplift the nursing profession.

The NCSBN Regulatory Innovations Department has also developed guidelines for nurses and nursing students for using social media responsibility, which are worth reviewing.

The bottom line is that it is possible to use social media safely and effectively as a nursing professional as long as privacy and confidentiality are a top priority.

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