Social media is a double-edged sword for healthcare professionals. On one hand, nurses on social media can network with fellow professionals and educate people on healthcare topics. However, when used improperly, these communication outlets can also spell big trouble for anyone in the healthcare industry.
It seems like every week there is a story on the news about someone posting something inappropriate on social media. All too often, it’s someone from the healthcare industry. Many of these stories involve HIPPA and confidentiality violations, which can mean serious consequences for everyone involved.
So, how can nurses enjoy the benefits of social media without risking any of the trouble? The first step is to avoid posting any identifying information about a patient online. While this may seem obvious, it is more complicated than many people realize.
Of course, nurses know not to post a picture of a patient with a caption like, “This is Jane Smith. She has XYZ disease and is being treated in Room 123.” However, it may not be so clear when a nurse posts a picture of a small child leaving the hospital with the caption “I’m so relieved that Timmy beat cancer! It was a pleasure to help this brave little boy.”
This seems innocent enough, sure. But think about what is being revealed in the post: the boy’s name, what he looks like, the hospital he was being treated at, and the nurse who attended to him. According to HIPAA, this identifying information violates the patient’s privacy.
As all healthcare workers have heard, consequences for HIPAA violations are often severe. Hospitals can face hefty fines and lawsuits. Healthcare professionals who violate the law can lose their jobs and licenses.
Here are a few simple rules to keep nurses out of trouble on social media:
- Do not take pictures of patients on your personal devices. If they want a picture taken, do so on their phone or camera.
- Do not discuss patients online. While talking about your job in general terms is typically acceptable, discussing patient specifics is just asking for problems. Stick to things like, “I’m so glad my job allows me to help people in need.”
- Don’t be friends with or follow patients on social media sites. This can lead to blurred lines and possible mishaps.
- Know HIPAA and your employer’s guidelines. Defer to those rules whenever needed.
- If you aren’t sure, don’t post it. No social media post is worth risking your career for.
Nurses should have the same access to social media as everyone else. However, due to the sensitive nature of their occupations, they must take a few more precautions than many other people. By thinking before posting and using common-sense guidelines, healthcare professionals can thrive on social media and avoid making mistakes.