6 Suggestions for Safe Social Networking

October 18th, 2011


By , BSN, RN

I love to share adventures and photos on Facebook, I have learned to tweet on Twitter, and I am LinkedIn with fellow professionals, other writers and other nurses. All these social networks have opened up worlds of communication and connections that can be used for gathering information, sharing ideas and advancing individual professions.

It is amazing really how many people use social networking. Facebook reports 150 million accounts in the United States and over 500 million worldwide. Twitter manages more than 140 million tweets daily and LinkedIn has over 100 million profiles.

With all this connecting comes responsibility. There are no formal rules for using social media but there are suggestions, guidelines and common sense. When you take your professionalism into this realm, you must be careful. Nurses face risks when they use social media inappropriately, including disciplinary action by the state board of nursing, loss of employment and legal consequences.

Nurses and nursing students have an obligation to understand the nature, benefits, and consequences of participating in social networking. Online content and behavior have the potential to enhance or undermine not only a nurse’s career, but also the nursing profession. With this risk in mind, the American Nurses Association (ANA) has developed some principles to help us know where it's safe to step and when we should stop.

ANA's Principles for Social Networking

  1. Nurses must not transmit or place online individually identifiable patient information. In fact, you really shouldn't reference or talk about patients at all.
  2. Nurses must observe ethically prescribed professional patient-nurse boundaries. Friending patients, no matter how close you became while taking care of them and their families, is probably unwise.
  3. Nurses should understand that patients, colleagues, institutions, and employers may view postings. Human Resources offices will do an online search and will look for you on Facebook. If there are pictures and stories you don't want others to know, don't post them online, and be careful where and when pictures are taken by even your closest friends. These days, there are very few secrets.
  4. Nurses should take advantage of privacy settings and seek to separate personal and professional information online. This tip seems pretty straightforward. Keep your private life private.
  5. Nurses should bring content that could harm a patient’s privacy, rights, or welfare to the attention of appropriate authorities. This one may seem tough. No one wants to rat out their friends, but as a healthcare professional, you have a duty to your patients to protect their privacy. It's the law.
  6. Nurses should participate in developing institutional policies governing online conduct. If you want a say in how, when and where social media can be used in your institution, get involved and talk to your managers. Then there will be no surprises later.

The ANA has also provided an equal number of suggestions for staying out of trouble in your online communications.

  1. Remember that standards of professionalism are the same online as in any other circumstance.
  2. Do not share or post information or photos gained through the nurse-patient relationship.
  3. Maintain professional boundaries in the use of electronic media. Online contact with patients blurs this boundary.
  4. Do not make disparaging remarks about patients, employers or co-workers, even if they are not identified.
  5. Do not take photos or videos of patients on personal devices, including cell phones.
  6. Promptly report a breach of confidentiality or privacy.

Seems like pretty good advice. Social media is great — our world is getting smaller; we have the ability to reach out, and learn from and live with people all over the world because these networks break down the barriers of distance and time. However, as with any information, we must be careful with how we disseminate it and with whom. As nurses, we have an ethical responsibility to our patients to keep their confidences, and we should have the good sense to put our own integrity first.

One Response to “6 Suggestions for Safe Social Networking”

  1. Patty Hedrick Says:

    Social Media can offer us a connection with others in our speciality who can relate to our profession, and offer education, support and guidance.
    Thanks for sharing the ANA’s principles of social networking and writing this article. I really enjoyed it.

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