Nursing Social Media Do's and Don'ts
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. 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.
As a nurse, it's important to know what you can and cannot post on social media. Here’s how to stay out of hot water when sharing about your career on your favorite social platform.
Social Media Guidelines for Nurses
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 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:
Social Media Do's for Nurses
- Nurses can talk about themselves, the nursing profession, their families, hobbies, and interest
- Nurses should aim to uplift the nursing profession in their posts
- Become keenly aware of your employer’s social media policies
- Realize that nothing online is ever really anonymous
Social Media Don'ts for Nurses
- 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
- 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
- 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
Nurses Can (And Do) Get Fired for Being Insensitive on Social Media
Posting patients by name or providing enough information that patients might be identified can get you in a lot of trouble. 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. It is illegal and fineable for nurses and other healthcare professionals to purposely or accidentally release information about patients.
Take the 2014 case of an 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.
In a recent case, OB nurses from Emory got fired for sharing their patient "icks" on social media. When Emory found out about the viral videos mocking patients, they quickly fired the nurses who were involved.
What Happens if You Accidentally Release Patient Information on Social Media?
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.
Why You Need to Be Careful About What You Post on Social as a Nurse
No nurse is immune to penalties resulting from inappropriate social media sharing. 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 of 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.