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Social media: Proceed with caution by Idowu Olabode : November 19, 2014, 11:07:08 PM
Social media has opened up entirely new methods of communication among RNs, their friends and colleagues. It is possible to post messages instantly via camera phones, Facebook, Twitter, blogs, Google+, wikis, discussion boards, e-mail, forums, Skype and YouTube, among others. RNs can use social media as an effective, real-time tool to educate and inform the public and other health care professionals about evidence-based practices and health resources. However, social media-use also raises regulatory and legal concerns.

Time and again, news reports bring attention to poor choices some health care workers have made when using social media. With a thought and a click, your message is broadcast and shared with all of your contacts. Then, as friends and co-workers forward your post, thousands of people have direct access to your comments and pictures. To avoid any pitfalls, before you post information online, ask yourself, “Is this information private or confidential?” and “Am I following my employer’s policy regarding social media?”

Communication that is shared on social media must occur within an ethical and professional framework, according to Nancy Spector, PhD, in the Online Journal of Issues in Nursing article “Guidelines for Using Electronic and Social Media: The Regulatory Perspective.” Because a fundamental aspect of nursing is based on patient trust, it is essential for nurses to respect patient confidentiality and privacy. RNs must consider their responsibility to maintain professional boundaries and to ensure their social media postings do not violate ethical and professional standards, laws and regulations, as well as patient privacy and confidentiality. ANA’s Code of Ethics for Nurses offers clear guidelines for the nurse to follow as “The nurse promotes, advocates for, and strives to protect the health, safety, and rights of the patient.”

The following case scenario illustrates Emily’s seemingly harmless post on social media.

A cautionary tale

Emily was employed as a staff nurse for two years before her request to transfer to the pediatric unit was finally granted. She knew as early as her first year in nursing school that she wanted to work with children. The pediatric unit strived to maintain consistency in its nursing assignments, and Emily found herself emotionally attached to one of her patients. A week before the patient’s discharge, Emily asked her colleague to take a picture of her with the patient. While her peer took the photograph, Emily wondered if the parents would be able to care for their child’s extensive needs after they went home. Later that evening, Emily posted the picture along with her concerns on her personal social media website.


As a professional nurse, Emily is now subject to negative legal consequences for identifying a patient and posting confidential information on a public social media website. Furthermore, her employer’s organizational policies require that health care providers maintain professional and ethical standards. Although Emily did not intend to cause any harm, her inappropriate use of social media:

• Was a breach of patient confidentiality, trust, dignity and respect.

• Violated state and federal laws.

• Exhibited unprofessional behavior.

• Broke the ANA Code of Ethics for Nurses.

• Could lead to license suspension.

Actions to take

Be proactive and become informed of privacy laws and organizational policies, and recognize that a basic element of professional nursing encompasses the ethical practice of patient privacy and confidentiality. As well, the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act (HIPAA) regarding patient privacy and confidentiality needs to be an ongoing managerial initiative monitored by all health care providers.

To help RNs safely navigate the social media landscape, ANA members can turn to their professional association for help. ANA developed a Social Networking Principles Toolkit to guide nurses and nursing students in how they maintain professional standards in new media environments.

— Marie-Elena Barry, MSN, RN, is a senior policy analyst at ANA.


« Last Edit: November 19, 2014, 11:09:15 PM by Idowu Olabode »

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