Everyone is on social media these days. While it is an easy avenue for connection, healthcare workers must weigh the pros and cons of sharing their thoughts widely with the world. Legal landmines abound, especially as it relates to the inadvertent sharing of patients' protected health information (PHI) as specified by the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act of 1996 (HIPAA).
Nurses don't have to shun the digital world, though. "By being careful and conscientious, nurses may enjoy the personal and professional benefits of social media without violating patient privacy and confidentiality," says a nursing guide to social media published by the National Council of State Boards of Nursing (NCSBN).
Are There Benefits for Nurses Who Are Active Online?
Social media is great for staying in touch with friends and colleagues, but nurses can use these platforms in even more meaningful ways. During the COVID-19 pandemic, nurses from around the globe logged on to share their experiences. They wanted to raise public awareness about the gravity of the situation and encourage individuals to be part of the solution. Nurses who are active online can also model healthy behaviors and empower others to do the same.
In addition, an online presence allows nurses to:
- Build camaraderie with other healthcare workers
- Discover job leads or volunteer opportunities
- Develop new skills by talking with others, watching videos or taking self-paced courses
- Create informative or educational content that is shared via blogs, TikTok, YouTube, etc.
What Are Some Social Media Best Practices for Nurses?
With good judgment and the following best practices, nurses can steer clear of potential problems online:
Social Media Don'ts
- DON'T overshare. Posting a patient's name or image is certainly off-limits, but even speaking in generalities may cross the line, as one Texas nurse found out when caring for a child with a rare case of measles. "While the nurse did not post the child's name on Facebook," says the website HIPAA Journal, "her job was listed on her profile along with the hospital where she worked … Due to the information contained in the posts and the rarity of the disease … the child could have been identified." The nurse was subsequently fired.
- DON'T rant about patients or your employer. Everyone has a bad day, but voicing your frustrations online offers no tangible benefits and several possible downsides. Keep your negative and controversial comments out of the public arena.
- DON'T "friend" patients or their family members. Connecting with patients or their family members on social media may seem harmless, but the friendship can quickly cross professional boundaries and compromise the nurse-patient relationship.
Social Media Do's
- DO know your employer's social media policies. Healthcare employers typically have a written social media policy, and not adhering to these rules has severe repercussions — from fines and loss of licensure to termination and criminal charges. Be sure you understand your employer's expectations for social media usage, and always ask for clarification if something is unclear.
- DO remember that the internet is forever. Once something is posted online, it cannot always be deleted. If someone takes a screenshot of your activity and reposts it, it will likely remain visible, including to your current and future employers, in some capacity forever.
- DO ask yourself one question. Before posting, ask yourself, "Is this something that I would be comfortable saying directly to my employer?" Be honest, trust your gut and share accordingly.
Social media is a daily part of life. It is an important tool that nurses can use to network, encourage healthy habits and draw attention to emerging public health concerns. Nurses can make the most of their digital footprints by keeping some simple do's and don'ts in mind.
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