With the rapid rate of technology integration in health care, the use of social media by health professionals is getting the utmost attention. The primary concern of medical organizations is the privacy, security, and confidentiality of patients’ personal information, which is protected by the Privacy Rule under the Health Insurance Profitability and Accountability Act of 1996 (HIPAA). Hospitals are concerned with the development and implementation of strategies to safeguard sensitive electronic health information and monitor their employees’ social media behavior (Drolet et al., 2017). Strict adherence to the guidelines on social network usage in both professional and personal lives is essential for every health care worker, while their violation is considered unprofessional and can negatively impact one’s career.
Social media policies and guidelines have been developed by many health care institutions and professional organizations. In 2018, the National Council of State Boards of Nursing (NCSBN) put together a set of rules for nurses for using social media responsibly (National Council of State Boards of Nursing [NCSBN], 2018). Per the HIPAA Privacy Rule, the recommendations primarily concern the non-disclosure of any information that relates to an individual’s past, present, or future physical or mental health, and the provision of health care (U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, 2013). The NCSBN guidelines state that nurses are not allowed to take or post pictures of patients, share their names and personal details, or reveal any information that may lead to their identification (NCSBN, 2018). This may include, for example, posting a picture of a patient with the comment that they are getting better or have taken a new course of treatment. Such information violates the patient’s right to privacy, and sharing it is considered unethical.
Nurses also should not contact patients using social media unless necessary. Nurses are obliged to establish, communicate, and maintain professional boundaries with patients in the online environment (Stroehlein & Bayer, 2016). A health professional’s knowledge of a patient should be restricted to a hospital only. Online contact blurs the distinction between a professional and personal relationship and should be managed carefully (NCSBN, 2018). Befriending a patient on social networks may lead to the development of a relationship that can influence the nurse’s professional judgment and cause a biased attitude or a conflict of interests when making medical decisions.
Nurses also should not make any inappropriate remarks about employers or colleagues on social media, or post content and speak on behalf of the hospital. It includes making threatening, harassing, obscene, sexually explicit, racist, homophobic, or other offensive remarks, or expressing one’s personal opinion on current matters regarding the employer (NSCBN, 2018). Such behavior damages both the professional reputation of a nurse and the image of the hospital and can lead to job termination or a financial penalty.
When posting both professional and personal social media content, nurses should adhere to the hospital’s social media guidelines as well as general values and principles of respecting human rights and dignity. For example, when a resonant tragedy occurs, a nurse can express condolences without revealing any particular details. For example, during the COVID-19 pandemic, it would be appropriate for a nurse to post some general words of support and assure her followers that they are doing the best they can. However, revealing any information regarding patients with COVID-19 and details about how the pandemic is handled at the hospital would be considered inappropriate.
As for me, I am not a member of any social media, and my activity on social networks is minimal. To some extent, it limits my channels of communication with colleagues and friends, but it gives me a significant advantage when social media privacy is concerned. I think that it also reflects Christian values, as the absence from social media ensures that I do not envy, gossip, judge, or accidentally hurt people online. I value my privacy and the privacy of my patients, and I have never posted or shared anything that could be have been considered unethical or inappropriate. It allows me to be sure that my social media behavior would not have a negative impact on my career.
Drolet, B., Marwaha, J., Hyatt, B., Blazar, P., & Lifchez, S. (2017). Electronic communication of protected health information: Privacy, security, and HIPAA compliance. The Journal of and Surgery, 42(6), pp. 411–416. Web.
National Council of State Boards of Nursing. (2018). A nurse’s guide to the use of social media. Web.
Stroehlein, M., & Bayer, T. (2016). Social media and nursing today. SOJ Nursing and Health Care, 2(2), pp. 1–3. Web.
U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. (2013). Summary of the HIPAA Privacy Rule. Web.