October 1, 2017

Nurse's Facebook Post About Flu Shots and Autism Sparks Controversy

Nurse's Facebook Post About Flu Shots and Autism Sparks Controversy

Social media has become a hot topic within the nursing community over recent years. Hospitals have issued social media policies and the National Coalition of State Boards (NCSB) has created an entire guide advising nurses on the professional use of social media. In several instances, nurses have even been fired for posting inappropriately on social media. 

Nurses are individuals with their own beliefs, opinions, coping mechanisms and...freedom of speech. Should nurses take precautions when posting online - even to their personal accounts? 


A nurse’s Facebook post has stirred controversy this week. Fox8 Cleveland interviewed Megan Elder of Amherst, OH regarding the University Hospital nurse’s Facebook post. The post reads, "460 flu vaccines in 8 hours. That's nearly 1 autism a minute. I'm exhausted." 

Elder screen-grabbed the post and shared it with her networks. She is an advocate for the disability community and also chose not to vaccinate her own children. "I grew up in the disability community, so for me, to see a post like that, I felt like it was insensitive," said Elder.


It appears that the post was shared on the nurse’s personal Facebook account. One could argue that the post does not break any HIPAA or patient confidentiality laws - which is what most hospital social media policies outline. 

Federal law reinforces and further defines privacy through the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act (HIPAA).

HIPAA regulations are intended to protect patient privacy and confidentiality by defining individually identifiable information and establishing how this information may be used, by whom and under what circumstances. The definition of individually identifiable information includes any information that relates to the past, present or future physical or mental health of an individual, or provides enough information that leads someone to believe the information could be used to identify an individual.  

However, the NCSB social media guide states that the BON may investigate reports of inappropriate disclosures on social media sites by a nurse on the grounds of:

  • Unprofessional conduct
  • Unethical conduct
  • Moral turpitude (defined as conduct that is considered contrary to community standards of justice, honesty or good morals)
  • Mismanagement of patient records
  • Revealing a privileged communication
  • Breach of confidentiality

This is a touchy situation for nurses - where is the line drawn between personal life and professional life? 

Elder reacted to her feelings about the post, "my gut reaction was disappointment. I feel like nurses should be trained a little bit better and have empathy both personally and professionally on how to discuss sensitive topics like that."

Whether you agree that the post was inappropriate or not, one thing is clear - whatever is posted on social media stays online forever. While we all laugh at the funny memes and joke around in our Facebook groups - the truth is, we never know who is really watching our activities. Or, who will go so far as to screenshot and report it to the news.  

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