Social media use has exploded in recent years, growing in popularity and infiltrating virtually every aspect of life. According to Pew Research Center, nearly two-thirds of adults use social networking sites like Facebook, Twitter and LinkedIn — up from just 7 percent in 2005. Add in other online platforms like blogs, forums and chat rooms and the participation rate may be much higher.
To avoid the detrimental effects caused by oversharing, nurses should use caution when posting online. Here are some guidelines on what to post and what not to post on social media.
What Should Nurses Post on Social Media?
Since social media is about connecting with others, nurses who choose to post online can have a powerful influence. Your social media followers may include nurses, nursing students, physicians and the general public, and this may affect what you choose to share. “Nurses can use social media as a means to connect with other nurses and healthcare professionals to improve the nursing profession. They can also use social media to tell stories, share personal experience and support one another,” said Brittney Wilson, a licensed nurse and blogger at The Nerdy Nurse.
When sharing something online, consider the impact first. “Everything a nurse says online can impact their career and the nursing profession. You should reread everything before you post it,” said Wilson. “Think to yourself, ‘Can I print this out, hold it in front of me, and walk around the hospital [and] into [the offices of] my boss, the human resources manager, the CEO, and then on the five o’clock news?’ If the answer is no, don’t post it.”
Nurses can also use social media to establish themselves as a thought leader in the industry. Carol Bush, a nurse and owner of the website, The Social Nurse, has been posting professionally on Facebook since 2007 and on Twitter and LinkedIn since 2009. She believes social media can help further the cause of the profession as well as distinguish you from colleagues.
“Blogging and microblogging are wonderful ways to bring awareness to specific health topics [and] the nursing profession as a whole, connect with other like-minded professionals, and establish your own professional brand,” Bush said. “Competency with digital tools — and this includes social media platforms — can be a career differentiator.”
As for what should be shared online, Bush believes that nurses have a responsibility to the public. “I think it is great to focus on curating evidence-based, factual health information. Pew internet surveys have identified that people trust information posted online by nurses and physicians more than any other source,” said Bush. “I believe we have an obligation to engage in blogging, microblogging via Twitter, developing accurate infographics, creating educational YouTube videos … you name it! We should take advantage of that and help inform the public.”
What Should Nurses Avoid Posting Online?
Perhaps the biggest downside to being active on social media is the possibility for HIPAA violations. Just as when you are handling patients’ personal health information (PHI) on the job, you must practice extreme caution when posting anything online. Even if an exposure is accidental, it can still have detrimental and lasting effects.
While it is impossible to list out everything that nurses should avoid posting online, the National Council of State Boards of Nursing (NCSBN) does offer several recommendations to minimize the risk of an unnecessary or accidental exposure of patient information, including the below guidelines:
Always maintain privacy and confidentiality. Nurses must recognize that they have an ethical and legal obligation to maintain patient privacy and confidentiality at all times.
Avoid posting patient-related images. Nurses are strictly prohibited from transmitting by way of any electronic media any patient-related image. In addition, nurses are restricted from transmitting any information that may be reasonably anticipated to violate patient rights to confidentiality or privacy, or otherwise degrade or embarrass the patient.
Protect the nurse-patient relationship. Nurses must not share, post or otherwise disseminate any information or images about a patient or information gained in the nurse-patient relationship with anyone unless there is a patient care-related need to disclose the information or other legal obligations to do so.
Do not include identifying information. Nurses must not identify patients by name, or post or publish information that may lead to the identification of a patient. Limiting access to postings through privacy settings is not sufficient to ensure privacy.
Do not mix business and personal devices. Nurses must not take photos or videos of patients on personal devices, including cell phones. Nurses should follow employer policies for taking photographs or videos of patients for treatment or other legitimate purposes using employer-provided devices.
Wilson also advises nurses to avoid the use of profanity and refrain from making any derogatory remarks about your employer, coworkers or the profession in general. Bush follows her own personal motto to avoid getting into trouble online.
“My motto is ‘Nurse offline, nurse online.’ I always strive to be professional in every environment and community, whether in person or virtual,” Wilson said.
Mayo Clinic has developed a catchy rhyme called the 12-Word Social Media Policy: “Don’t lie, don’t pry; Don’t cheat, can’t delete; Don’t steal, don’t reveal” to help nurses and other healthcare providers navigate the muddy waters of social media.
Maintaining HIPAA compliance is certainly one of the greatest worries for nurses trying to balance social media usage with their profession, but Wilson urges nurses to take a wider view.
“HIPAA is the easy one, [but there is] more to consider,” she said. “Learn what constitutes PHI and just avoid any and all items that could give away that information.”
If you are going to share stories of your nursing encounters, Wilson recommends that you scramble and change details so no identifying information remains.
Social media provides a way for nurses to share their experiences, but it can also follow you throughout your career.
“When someone Googles you, the first page almost always includes your social media pages including LinkedIn, Twitter, and Facebook,” said Wilson. “Roughly 80 percent of employers will Google their potential employees [so] make sure your profiles represent the professional brand you want your current and future employers to see.”
Social media provides a powerful platform for nurses to connect with others and share information, encouragement and support. However, nurses should practice caution and follow the guidelines above to avoid compromising patient confidentiality and the resulting irreparable damage that can occur for all involved.
Learn about the CSUSM online RN to BSN program.
Bush, C. (2016, December 13). Email interview.
Wilson, B. (2016, December 11). Email interview.
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