Social media has become a key component of many businesses’ success, and this is particularly true in the healthcare field. Leveraging social media to one’s advantage can help healthcare workers like nurses foster professional connections. It can also help nurses receive pertinent work-related information as well as educate and inform patients.
When not used appropriately and responsibly, however, social media is a liability to both nurses and their employers. This often happens when nurses divulge too much information on the internet and violate privacy laws.
How social media misuse can affect your nursing career
Hiring managers may use your social media to inform their hiring decision. The average turnover cost for a nurse is between $37,000 and $58,000. Given the cost and frequency of turnover, a quick screen of a potential candidate’s social media is well worth the time. In fact, a recent study revealed that roughly 70% of employers use social media to screen candidates during the hiring process.
Candidates should be aware of unattractive pictures of college parties, drug use, illegal activities, profanity, and other unprofessional behavior that can affect them negatively. Engaging in heated debates and controversial opinions are also no-nos. A negative social media presence could influence employers’ decision to not offer an interview or a job.
Recently, a nurse from Salem Health was put on administrative leave due to a controversial post she made on TikTok regarding COVID health restrictions. What she thought was a harmless post ended up resulting in her taking down not only her TikTok account but her Facebook one as well. Her careless actions ultimately left a mark on her nursing career.
Inappropriate posts can violate patient privacy. Sharing something seemingly harmless like a photo on Facebook or Instagram can give away personally identifiable and confidential information that violates HIPAA.
Violating any HIPAA regulations can result in a fine anywhere between $100 – $50,000 per violation. Additionally, worst-case scenarios can permit a $250,000 fine and even possible imprisonment for as long as 10 years. So it’s essential that as a nurse, you’re being smart and safe on social media.
For example, a ProPublica report from 2015 detailed 47 different incidents of nursing home and assisted living workers misusing social media and violating patient confidentiality laws.
Social media guidelines for nurses
Social media is a great outlet for nurses to express their feelings and seek support from friends, family, and colleagues. However, healthcare workers must be mindful of their usage. Here’s a look at three must-follow tips and standards provided by the American Nursing Association for nurses using social media.
Posting any PHI (Protected Health Information), without patient authorization, on social media may constitute a HIPAA violation. These violations include:
- any text, image, video, or other media identifying the individual as a patient of the practice
- any media where patients of a practice or PHI are visible
- posts that include enough detail that could identify the patient
- responding to patients posting an unfavorable review of a practice or cites a disagreement with a practice
Even seemingly harmless videos of nurses doing nice things for their patients can fall under these violations. To be safe, nurses should share photos and/or videos of patients only if the patient authorizes and consents to this information being shared.
Do not transmit patient information
You can’t use social media to transmit any form of individually identifiable patient information. You can discuss various aspects of your workday with a patient, but you can’t provide any identifiable data.
For example, if a patient gives you a ‘thank-you’ card for the care you’ve provided. On the inside of the card, the patient has signed their name. The front of the card, however, has absolutely no personally identifiable patient information. So, you can make a post on social media using a picture of the front of the card, but not the inside. Also, keep in mind that you can’t say the patient’s name or the location in which they are receiving care.
Observe ethical patient-nurse boundaries
Although it is always encouraged for nurses to be warm and friendly towards patients, it’s important to maintain boundaries. In order to maintain proper conduct in patient-nurse relationships, it is inappropriate to communicate with patients outside of care. This includes not adding patients on any form of social media, no exchanging numbers, and obviously, not meeting outside of the healthcare facility.
Understand privacy of posted content
Just because a nurse posts content on a personal social media profile doesn’t mean certain co-workers and patients won’t see it. This is especially true when nurses don’t separate their personal and professional profiles. When nurses publish content, they never know when social media followers and friends will share the content with their own network. As a result, unintended parties may be able to see the post in question. So, to avoid this, it’s highly recommended that nurses separate personal and professional profiles to take advantage of privacy settings.
If you have not recently reviewed your social media privacy settings, don’t wait to check on them. You can choose to allow only certain groups of people to view your information, generally family and friends, not strangers. If your privacy settings are correctly set up, a hiring manager, patient, or anyone other than who you choose won’t be able to view your content.
When in doubt, play it safe
Taking a conservative approach to what is shared with the public is the best option for nurses in most cases. Consider changing your privacy settings and always be aware of how what you’re posting may impact yourself, your patients, and your employer. In fact, it is even recommended that you do not disclose where you work or any of your colleagues.
More than half of hiring managers (57%) found inappropriate behaviors when screening candidates that lead them to not hire someone. The last thing nurses want when preparing for an interview is to hurt your chances of getting a new nursing job because of a careless post.