Let’s face it.
Social media has become an integral part of our lives, both personally and professionally.
But while individuals in some industries may enjoy free reign when it comes to posting publicly, those in the health care industry must adhere to much more stringent rules.
In fact, the Nurses Service Organization (NSO) has recounted numerous stories of nursing professionals facing severe consequences for misuse of social media, including being fired and even loss of license.
That’s not to say that social is completely off limits for nurses.
It’s just that it’s a bit more complicated for health care professionals than for the average Joe.
To prevent any costly mishaps, here are a few best practices and social media policies to keep in mind.
Leverage public platforms to promote the positive side of nursing.
When it comes to health care, the old adage “any publicity is better than no publicity” is most certainly not a good approach.
One careless public post could easily land yourself as well as your employer in serious legal hot water, not to mention what bad PR can do for the industry’s reputation as a whole.
It really is a slippery slope.
To avoid this, make a conscious effort to always promote the positive side of nursing.
Resist the urge to use social media platforms as a tool to vent your frustrations – even if it’s on your personal page.
That way should something you share go viral, you won’t have to worry about any negative backlash as a result.
Always present yourself in a professional, respectable manner.
There’s a lot of talk about having good bedside manner when working with patients, but the fact is, that shouldn’t end when you clock out for the day.
To the contrary – your professionalism and respectable tone and behavior should carry over into your social media interactions as well.
When you make a point to always act responsibly when you post, you put a positive human face to the nursing profession.
From a personal perspective, you will gain much more respect as a trusted industry resource when you conduct yourself with dignity and professionalism – especially when discussing health care related topics with the intent of educating and raising awareness.
Never share confidential information.
The health care industry is governed by strict laws and regulations surrounding patient privacy and confidentiality.
Using social media to humanize the nursing profession doesn’t mean that it’s ok to share information about patients and their problems.
Chances are your employer already has stringent policies in place that are designed to protect you as a worker, themselves as an employer and, most important, the patients receiving care.
If you aren’t already aware, be sure to learn those policies and work only within those boundaries.
And when in doubt, don’t post it.
Never, ever publish anything that identifies patients.
As a health care provider, you have a duty and obligation to protect your patient’s privacy at all costs.
As such, you should never, EVER publish any kind of identifying information about a patient – especially photos.
Not only does doing so violate patient confidentiality laws, but it could also be grounds for a potential lawsuit against yourself and your employer.
It could even cost you your job.
Even if a patient grants you permission to post his or her photo or personal information, chances are your employer has strict rules against it.
As such, it is always in your best interest to steer clear of any posts of this nature.
Again, it’s always better to be safe than sorry.
Seize the opportunity to educate and inform.
As a nurse, chances are you are knowledgeable about a number of different industry-related topics.
Social media can be a great platform for you to share your expertise, educating and spreading awareness to the masses.
This can also be a great way to catch the eye of potential employers.
Just be careful that the information you are sharing is accurate.
If you are sharing your opinion on something, be sure to clearly state what is fact and what is opinion.
And remember, as one of the previous steps advises, always keep your communications respectful and professional.
Access social media on your own time using your own devices.
One of the things that can get nurses in trouble when it comes to social media activity is when they post while they’re on the clock and/or using company-owned devices.
This is typically prohibited, in fact it’s often included in employment policies, so be sure to read up on what rules may be in effect at your place of work.
Better yet, unless your role directly involves publishing things on social media, do not do so while you’re on the job.
Always maintain professional boundaries with patients.
It’s not uncommon for a patient to want to connect with their nurse via social media – especially those who have long-standing relationships.
This isn’t necessarily off-limits, although many nurses choose not to engage with their patients socially.
If you do decide that you’re comfortable befriending a patient on social media, make sure to keep all interactions professional.
And remember – even if you are connected with a patient socially, it doesn’t give you license to discuss his or her personal medical information.
If a patient is inquiring on a particular topic that relates to them, speak broadly rather than about the patient’s individual case.
Don’t assume private posts will remain private.
Just because your social media profiles are set to private or you’re engaging with other professionals via private groups doesn’t mean the information you’re sharing won’t end up in the wrong hands.
To be safe, you should always operate under the assumption that what you post on social media can and very likely will be seen by a stranger.
Keeping this thought in the back of your mind will help you to be more mindful about what you share.
The old saying, “loose lips sink ships” can easily be applied to using social media as a health care professional.
Used carelessly, social media can spell disaster for nurses.
By keeping the above tips in mind, however, you can reap the many rewards of social without placing your career in jeopardy.
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