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How Nurses Can Prevent Social Media Mishaps

Analysis  |  By Jennifer Thew RN  
   August 30, 2018

Nurse leaders should review and revisit social media policies to prevent HIPAA violations.

A Houston nurse was fired after allegedly violating HIPAA laws by posting about a patient with measles in an anti-vaccination Facebook group, reports the Dallas News

While it may seem obvious that nurses should be savvy about patient privacy and social media use, this incident—as well as others—illustrate that more education is needed.

"Nurses need to be aware of the professional reputation they're creating for themselves and how they're using online tools," says Robert Fraser, MN, RN, a primary care nurse, author, and digital health strategist from Toronto, Ontario, Canada. "Social media does provide new opportunities and new ways of approaching how we communicate, but nurses need to reflect on their professional identity and their professional expectations within the workplace."

Reviewing hospital policies with their staff is one step nurse leaders can take to help prevent these types of incidents.  

"What I encourage organizations to do is a) make sure they have a policy and b) that it's something they revisit over time," Fraser advises.

Some expectations, such as privacy rules including HIPAA, may already exist within other policies.

Fraser says there is a hierarchy of professional practice obligations and social media connects with all of them.

The highest level of the hierarchy pertains to laws, such as HIPAA, or other federal privacy legislation.

Before a nurse decides to post something on a social media channel, he or she should think about how that tool ties into professional practice.

Rather than restricting employees' access to social media while they are in the facility (as some organizations do) nurse leaders can model positive use of these tools.

For example, Fraser knows of a hospital that has used Facebook as an additional way of communicating information posted on the intranet or by email. They have also shared photos of nurses (taken with permission and without sharing identifying patient information) to highlight the work staff is doing.

"They were encouraging nurses to follow so that when they were looking at news updates and seeing what might be going on in their social world, they may also be able to engage around the positive professional behaviors that the organization wanted to endorse," he says.

Jennifer Thew, RN, is the senior nursing editor at HealthLeaders.

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