Social Media Dos And Don'ts For Nurses
Jessica Ek, Social Media Engagement Manager for the American Nurses Association, shares tips and advice on avoiding common social media pitfalls as well as how to use the community to your benefit. (Editor's Note: At time of blog review 3/29/22, Jessica Ek no longer worked at ANA. Policies and laws governing social media and privacy may have changed since this article's posting in 2017.)
Research suggests an estimated 81 percent of the U.S. population, including nurses, uses social media and over 2 billion people use social networking sites worldwide. We use the networks to stay in touch with friends and family, to be part of professional organizations, and just for fun.
However, as a nurse, there are certain dangers to be aware of online. “First and foremost is the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act (HIPAA),” says Jessica Ek, Social Media Engagement Manager for the American Nurses Association. HIPAA privacy regulations require health care providers to protect patient confidentiality and health data. In terms of social media, that means nurses cannot post patient identifiable information.
Even if you don’t outright name a patient or snap a photo, the stories you share on social media can be an infringement on HIPAA without you even realizing it. “For instance, maybe you once posted that you worked in the emergency room, and maybe months before that, you posted the name of the hospital. Then, at some point in the future, you write about a patient that touched your heart. Even if you didn’t mention the patient by name, the specifics of the case, and because it can be traced back to what hospital and department, can become a trail that leads to a HIPAA violation,” says Ek.
A HIPAA violation will not only put your job and nursing license at risk, but you might even have to pay a hefty fine ranging from $100 to $50,000.
It’s crucial that nurses remember that social media is a public forum. If you post negative comments about coworkers or your workplace, your employer may see it and the post could be grounds for getting fired.
Many health organizations also discourage nurses from connecting with or “friending” patients on social media. If the patients and nurses become close online there’s a chance they can share personal information. “You must not transmit HIPAA violating information on a public network even if it's only going to that person,” says Ek.
How Social Media Can Help Nurses
There are plenty of upsides to using social media as a nurse, as long as you use it mindfully and responsibly. Not only can nurses stay connected with friends near and far from outside the nursing profession, but social media gives us the opportunity to meet and engage with nurses throughout the country and world. We can commiserate over struggles that only fellow nurses understand, share ideas, and give each other support.
In fact, following the American Nurses Association on Facebook, Twitter, or Instagram can help you stay informed of key issues that affect nurses. And Healthy Nurse, Healthy Nation’s Facebook group, healthynurseusa on Instagram or @HealthyNurseUSA on Twitter are places where we can encourage one another as we focus on our own health, using #HealthyNurse. ANA members also have access to the ANA Community site where nurses can discuss topics that interest them.
Social Media Guidelines for Nurses
Keep these tips in mind to ensure you’re using social media safely and not risking your job or a patient’s privacy online:
- Know your organization’s social media policy. Most organizations have one and some places, such as the Mayo Clinic and Cleveland Clinic, even post theirs publicly.
- Take advantage of privacy settings. ANA’s Principles of Social Media in Nursing states that nurses should look into and understand the privacy settings for different social networks while understanding that using these settings does not guarantee safety.
- Maintain professionalism in person and online. “These are public forums. Don't disparage your patients, your employer, or your co-workers. Even if they're not identified, it's not a good practice — in person or online,” says Ek.
- Consider adding a disclaimer in your social media bio. If you do list the name of your employer, you may want to add a sentence to your bio explaining that your opinions are your own, such as, “The views expressed here are my own and do not reflect the views of my employer.”
- Post patient stories. You may have the best of intentions, but you could accidentally share private information and be in violation of HIPAA.
- Indiscriminately post from your workplace. Even if you’re posting a fun photo of you and coworkers, there could be a patient, family member, or a visible chart in the background. If your workplace’s policy allows you to post while at work, check your surroundings carefully before posting a picture. Double check anything you write to make sure it does not infringe on a patient’s privacy. Consider having another coworker review it before posting.
- Connect with patients or their family members online. Sharing private information over social networks is never completely safe. If you were online friends with someone before they became your patient, avoid discussing or sharing information about your nurse-patient relationship over the internet.
- Complain about your employer. In fact, if you want to ensure you stay in compliance with your organization’s guidelines, it may be a good idea to make no mention of your workplace at all.
- Post anything that can shame the nursing profession. “Nurses are the most trusted profession. It might not be fair, but nurses are held to a higher standard, and that's the same on social media as anywhere else,” says Ek.
How to Control Your Social Media Use, So It’s Not Controlling You
In addition to ensuring you’re not violating your employer’s social media policies, you may want to consider putting your own personal policies in place for your social media usage. Studies show that spending a significant amount of time on social media can be addicting, and lead to depression or feelings of inadequacy.
Use these tips to make sure you’re using social media in a healthy way:
- Take time away. If you’re mindlessly scrolling Facebook too often or are becoming drained from heated political discussions online, take some time away from social media. Remove the app from your phone and log off your desktop for a day or longer. Or consider taking part in Screen-Free Week.
- Remind yourself to reality check. People often post their best moments online. They frequently don’t share their hardships, struggles, or bad days. Try not to compare your real life with their online one.
- Filter your “friends.” You can choose who you want to follow or friend. Include people whose posts make you feel good or are uplifting. Unfriend or unfollow people who are negative or make you feel bad. Afraid of offending someone? You can opt to hide their posts on Facebook and they’ll never know.
- Adjust your settings. On Facebook, you can select people or brands whose posts you’d like to see first. Choose things that make you smile so they’re the first things you see when you sign on.
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Browne, C., PhD, RN, AOCN, NEA-BC, FAAN. (2016, June 09). Must-read social media advice for nurses. Retrieved April 09, 2018.
Kemp, S. (2017, August 07). Number of social media users passes 3 billion with no signs of slowing. Retrieved April 10, 2018.