Must-Read Social Media Advice For Nurses

Morgan Wynne

by Carlton G. Brown, PhD, RN, AOCN, NEA-BC, FAAN

Over the last several years, the world has witnessed the explosion of social media and other electronic communication like Facebook, Twitter, Pinterest, and Instagram. In fact, it is estimated that Facebook has one billion monthly visitors while Twitter has more than three hundred million.

These social media sites are an excellent way to share and translate information on virtually every topic. Nurses often use social media platforms to discuss issues around patients, healthcare, and to promote their own profession.

However, these same sites have been used inappropriately by nurses who have found themselves in significant legal problems both for the organizations in which they work but also for their own registered nurse licensure.

Here’s how to stay out of hot water when sharing about your career on your favorite social platform.

What Not To Do On Social Media

Nurses especially find themselves in trouble when they mention in a social media posting patients by name or provide enough information that patients might be identified.

Nurses also find themselves in hot water when they inappropriately mention the hospital or something about their current work conditions. Thus nurses must be very careful on the information they share on social media sites.

The Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act of 1996 (HIPAA) gives patients rights over their health information and sets rules and limits on who can look at and receive patients health information.

Related: Why I Couldn't Sleep When I Heard About This Controversy On Social Media

Currently it is illegal and finable for nurses and other healthcare professionals to purposely or accidentally release information about patients, sometimes while using social media sites like Facebook or Twitter.

Take the 2014 case of a RN in New York City who was fired by her employer for posting a picture on Instagram depicting a chaotic emergency room following the care of a man who was hit by a subway train.

While the RN never mentioned the patient's name or other information, it isn’t every day that a person is hit by a subway and thus a connection could have been made between the Instagram picture and news report involving a specific patient. The nurse was not fired by her employer for a HIPAA violation or break in hospital policy.

But she was fired for being insensitive.

Why You Want To Be Safe On Social Platforms

Releasing patient information is a serious problem for nurses. Nurses who accidentally release patient information can be fined anywhere from $100 to $50,000 civil fine. In addition to civil fines, nurses can also find themselves in trouble in relation to licensure problems.

One only needs to search the words “social media” and “nurse,” to read the numerous stories where nurses have been let go for writing or posting comments and photos about patients or hospitals.

No nurse is immune to penalties resulting from inappropriate social media sharing.

Uplift The Nursing Profession

Brittney Wilson, RN, BSN, also known as The Nerdy Nurse, is an award winning author and national speaker on social media issues, bullying, and informatics. She has recommendations or rules for how nurses can keep out of trouble while using social media but also using social media effectively and positively.

These rules nurses should use while utilizing social media include include:

  • Nurses should talk about themselves, the nursing profession, their family, hobbies, and interest
  • Never talk about patients or identifiable coworkers
  • Avoid identifying your employer on your social media profiles
  • Don’t post anything online that you wouldn’t say in front of your boss or human resources
  • Uplift the nursing profession

Let’s be clear, nurses can participate in social media, they just have to be careful for what they include. Ms. Wilson further recommends that nurses:

  • Don’t post online that you are at work as this could put you and your home at risk
  • Don’t use the employer’s internet to post on social media sites--just don’t post to social media while at work
  • Realize that nothing online is ever really anonymous
  • Become keenly aware of your employer’s social media policies
  • Don’t identify your employer on your personal profiles
  • Don’t do anything you would be embarrassed to say to your mother, your clergy, your boss, or a potential employer
  • Don’t do anything that could degrade or embarrass your profession

In many instances, nurses make HIPAA violations or even post insensitive comments about a patient, hospital, or situation innocently.

Yet, the consequences of a violation in patient privacy or insensitivity to an employer or co-workers are very real and even detrimental to offending nurses both financially and for their licensure.

But beyond penalties themselves, remember that you are a representative of your profession. Give the world a positive impression of your beloved career.

See open nursing positions near you.

Next Up: Advance Your Career Through Networking And Social Media

Morgan Wynne

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