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How Nurses Should Use Social Media

Nurses and Social Media – Avoiding the Pitfalls

Social networking sites such as Facebook, YouTube, LinkedIn and Twitter are increasingly popular venues utilized by individuals and groups. Among U.S. adults who use the Internet, 65% use a social networking site, a 2011 report by the Pew Internet & American Life Project found. That’s more than double the percentage of adults who used social networks just three years earlier.

The convenience of social media allows for maintaining personal and professional relationships with others, wherever they are located. Nurses are among those who have found these sites to be beneficial for professional development and education or as a method of disseminating health information and guidance to a wider audience. Unfortunately, social media also can be employed in an invasive or illegal way, either deliberately or unintentionally.

Although many organizations and companies have policies regulating Internet use on the job, they don’t always address online behavior outside the workplace.

In response to the potential for misuse and missteps, the American Nurses Association (ANA) and the National Council of State Boards of Nursing (NCSBN) in 2011 published guidelines and principles for nurses using social media. Both organizations emphasized protection for patients but also cautioned nurses to protect themselves and their employers by staying aware of information posted on social networks.

Protecting Confidentiality and Privacy

The ANA’s Principles for Social Networking and the Nurse identifies six essential guidelines for nurses and nursing students:

  • Do not transmit or place online individually identifiable patient information
  • Observe ethically prescribed patient-nurse boundaries
  • Understand that patients, colleagues, institutions and employers may view postings
  • Use privacy settings and seek to separate personal and professional information online
  • Notify the appropriate authorities of content that could harm a patient’s privacy, rights or welfare
  • Participate in developing institutional policies governing online conduct

Confidentiality and privacy are vital concepts in patient care; nurses must be protective of patients’ personal information. Other than sharing such information with members of the healthcare team for patient care purposes, nurses can disclose it only with a patient’s informed consent or when significant harm could occur.

The patient-nurse relationship is based on trust, with the nurse expected to treat patients with dignity and respect. The therapeutic relationship may be irreparably damaged if the trust is broken by an indiscretion on the nurse’s part, whether intentional or not. That can have negative outcomes for the patient’s physical and mental health. The patient may be hesitant or unwilling to provide further personal information for fear that it will be shared improperly.

Inappropriate Social Media Use

The inappropriate dissemination of patient information may take many forms, including:

  • Uploading a patient’s photograph to a social media website
  • Blogging about a patient’s medical condition and treatment or aspects of their nursing care
  • Posting identifying patient information such as name, diagnosis or hospital room number
  • Making degrading comments

Remember, information posted on a social media site can be retrieved even after being deleted and there is great potential for it to be viewed by individuals other than its intended recipients.

A nurse who breaches patient confidentiality or privacy may be subject to disciplinary action by a healthcare organization or state nursing board, or through legal proceedings initiated by the patient or family.

Social networking offers nurses an opportunity to connect with others and to share their thoughts and concerns about the profession. There is much to be learned from the experiences of other nurses. However, all information posted to social media sites should be general and not include details that can identify a patient.

Even if personally identifying information is released unintentionally, nurses may be in danger of losing their jobs or licenses, in addition to damaging their personal reputations and the reputations of their organization and profession.

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