Social media has saturated every industry, and nursing is no exception. For nurses, social media allows them to connect their personal and professional lives, facilitating conversations with colleagues about health care advances, current best practices, and more. Many students going through nursing programs or already established as nurses may want to share what they have experienced or learned. Yet, social media use can also lead to unexpected consequences, with any shared professional information at risk of being reported and scrutinized. As long as nurses follow the guidelines outlined below , they can avoid unpleasant professional consequences and stay clear of risks related to disclosure of protected information.
Nurses using social media need to follow a set of guidelines, outlined below, to avoid unpleasant consequences.
Nurses and Social Media
Nurses can positively use social media to share challenging or emotional experiences, but it is critical that they not mention any identifying patient or location information to avoid negative consequences.
First and foremost, according to the American Nurses Association Code of Ethics, “Nurses should evaluate all their postings with the understanding that a patient, colleague, educational institution, or employer could potentially view those postings. Online content and behavior have the potential to either enhance or undermine not only the individual nurse’s career but also the nursing profession.”
To help gain a better understanding of the difference between acceptable and unacceptable use, some of the ways nurses utilize social media are outlined below.
Positive Ways Nurses Use Social Media
Nurses are welcome to use social media personally, with many potential benefits for both the individual nurses and the nursing community. Popular platforms for nurses include blogging, Twitter, Facebook, YouTube, and professional forums.
Blogging. Many nurses of all specialties blog as a form of sharing industry insights and daily life as a nurse. For example, there are currently nursing blogs about correctional nursing, the evolving health care environment, health care technologies, nursing school tips, travel nursing, and international nursing advice, among others.
Twitter. Twitter offers a place for nurses to share small tidbits about their profession, with nursing accounts already existing for male nurses, health breakthroughs, problems facing the industry, the history of nursing, and so on. The American Journal of Nursing and the American Nurses Association also have Twitter accounts.
Facebook. A common way nurses use Facebook is to connect with local nursing organizations through Facebook groups. This allows nursing professionals in certain areas to come together and share insights or discuss local changes, as long as everything is kept professional and confidential.
YouTube. For nurses who want to connect via video, YouTube is an excellent platform. For example, current YouTube channels feature nursing student life and tips, nursing technology, social media and nursing, diverse health care teams, workplace communication methods, and health care safety.
Professional forums. Forums run by established medical organizations can be excellent places to find information, ask questions, and learn more about the multifaceted industry of nursing. There are a lot of beneficial information sources and learning opportunities to be had, as long as the comments are kept professional and nonspecific to patient or location.
Negative Ways Nurses Use Social Media
Many of the ways social media and nursing don’t work well together have to do with breaking confidentiality and patient privacy. Any patient information may only be disclosed to other health care team members to provide further patient care. Other instances of information sharing should only occur with a patient’s informed consent. As noted by the National Council of State Boards of Nursing (NCSBN), breach of trust can irrevocably damage relationships between patients and their caregivers, not to mention negatively impacting the public view of the nursing profession’s trustworthiness.
Sharing information. Nurses may want to share feelings of support or a bit of their daily lives on social media. That’s fine, as long as there is no patient information and it remains on a professional level. Sharing health information of patients — regardless of whether it’s in a good or bad light — is a breach of confidentiality and privacy, as it publishes private information that patients may not want shared or publicly acknowledged.
Posting unprofessional behavior. Many nurses may believe that information shared privately or on their personal page is not subject to professional scrutiny. However, evidence of unprofessional behavior, such as actions reflecting unethical conduct, could negatively impact their professional career. Particularly charged comments, such as those about alcohol, sex, drugs, or race, could lead to unprofessional behavior charges, according to American Nurse Today.
Sharing photographs. Similar to sharing information, sharing photographs of patients is also generally not allowed, even if the patient is not named. Someone on social media may happen to recognize them, which would again damage the confidentiality and privacy of the patient. Even if such photos are deleted, they can still be brought back from the server. The best course of action is not to post them at all.
Complaining. Another use of social media that could result in unprofessional behavior charges is taking to an online platform to complain about patients, places of employment, colleagues, job responsibilities, and the like. As anyone can report breaches to the Board of Nursing (BON), privacy settings on social media won’t help a nurse who posts private patient information or content unbecoming of a nursing professional.
Consequences of Social Media Abuse
Consequences of social media and nursing misuse vary depending, in part, on the “particular nature of the nurse’s conduct,” according to NCSBN. Inappropriate instances may be reported to the BON. The NCSBN notes that “the line between speech protected by labor laws, the First Amendment, and the ability of an employer to impose expectations on employees outside of work is still being determined.”
However, while each case varies, these reports have the potential to hurt nurses legally, financially, and professionally. If the charges are found to be true, potential consequences include:
● Mandatory training
● Expulsion from nursing school
● Loss of employment
● Revoked license
● Civil lawsuits
● Law enforcement response/criminal charges
Social media abuse not only impacts the nurse who posted the content, but also the people or institution they posted about. For example, negative comments may adversely impact care team cohesion as well as result in punitive action against the nurse, according to the NCSBN.
How to Avoid Disclosing Confidential Information
One of the best ways to avoid disclosing confidential patient information is for a nurse to follow employer policies and ask an organization leader for further guidance related to any postings with work-specific content, according to the NCSBN.
As explained by EveryNurse, nurses should not use social media to:
● Complain about or comment on any aspect of their patients
● Post patient photographs
● Rant about place of employment
● Blow off work-related steam
● Use derogatory language
● Voice offensive comments
There are many common myths and misunderstandings regarding social media and nursing, many of which may provide a nurse with a false sense of security, belying how dangerous questionable posts may really be to their career. For example, the NCSBN points out that private posts don’t necessarily stay private (those who see it can share it), deleted content is never gone forever (it can be recovered from the server), and using pseudonyms is a bad idea (nicknames, room numbers, and the like aren’t difficult to figure out). When in doubt, just don’t post it.
Nurses in a school program or already in the field must remember to use social media appropriately. A good rule is to keep shared information professional, confidential, and nonspecific. That way, helpful information can be shared without the worry of negatively impacting the lives of the patients, coworkers, nurse, or organization. By adhering to the rules, nursing professionals can bring their own ideas to the discussion and use social media as a force for good in the nursing and health care communities.
American Journal of Nursing, Twitter
American Nurses Association, Twitter
American Nurse Today, “Social Media Missteps Could Put Your Nursing License at Risk”
EveryNurse, “How Nurses Should Be Using Social Media”
National Council of State Boards of Nursing, “A Nurse’s Guide to the Use of Social Media”