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Social Media Issues for Nurses

Nurses Need to Be Careful Using Social Media

Social media sites such as Facebook, Twitter, Linked In, Instagram, nursing forums, etc. are social media iconsvery effective ways to connect with other people, network for business and keep up with friends and family. However, because these sites are so successful at spreading information quickly to a wide audience, the potential to share information that is not in your best interest is ever present. Nurses must be hyper-vigilant when using social media to avoid the following:

  • Appearing “unprofessional”
  • Sharing inappropriate information about their workplace
  • Violating patient’s privacy and HIPAA

Unprofessional Conduct

Many people have had the experience of being named or tagged in a photo that they would rather not be published. And a comment or a photo that is meant to be private can be unintentionally shared with others, even strangers. Usually the situation is just embarrassing, but when you are a nurse, you need to be extra cautious using social media. Nursing is a heavily regulated profession and “unprofessional conduct” is grounds for disciplinary action by the Board of Nursing.

Appearing in photos of drinking and partying or comments referencing drug use, even in jest, may bring unwelcome attention from your workplace or the nursing board. A nurse may also post something that could be considered offensive or discriminatory.  In July of this year, a Louisiana nurse was fired for posting comments on Facebook that were deemed offensive. The nurse said that her account had been hacked and she did not write the comments, but whatever the truth of the situation, it is a cautionary tale. Nurses should be able to participate in social media like everyone else, but also need to be make sure that their photos and comments do not make them seem unprofessional.

Sharing Information about the Workplace

It is a good idea to review your privacy settings on social media sites. But even when you have the highest privacy settings, what you write and the photos that are posted can be shared from friend to friend and may get back to your employer or co-workers. Complaints made in the heat of the moment can certainly come back to haunt you when you have calmed down and had time to reflect. Negative comments are embarrassing for a medical facility, but some employers prohibit mentioning or photographing the workplace even when the comment is positive or neutral. Your employer likely has a social media policy in place and it is a good idea to become familiar with their expectations. A nurse also needs to be aware that anything publicly available on the web is fair game for an employer to see. A good standard is not to post anything that you would not want your boss or a future boss to see.

Patient Privacy

There are of course HIPAA violations to be concerned about, but there are also ordinary privacy issues to consider. A remark on social media that is considered flippant might upset a patient and cause them to file a complaint with the employer or the nursing board. Some nurses have been fired or investigated for sharing information about their patients, even though the patient was not named. In general, nurses need to be very careful about sharing information that can be traced back to a specific patient.

Social media is certainly a fun way to connect and communicate, and social networking can also be helpful for a nurses’ career. However, a nurse needs to be cautious and not endanger his or her license unnecessarily. Some issues a nurse has little control over – understaffing, long hours, miscommunication, mismanagement, and so on, but inappropriate sharing on social media is one thing they can and should be able to manage properly. If someone has brought a complaint to the board of nursing against you for professional misconduct, potential drug or alcohol dependency or any of the above issues, you may contact my law office for a free consultation.

Thomas Alonzo

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