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Social Media Do's and Don'ts for Nurses

Social do's and don'ts for nursesMost people have to follow a set of social media do's and don'ts for the sake of maintaining professionalism, but nurses have to take a number of other considerations into account. While all social media users have to make an effort to maintain their personal privacy online, nurses also have the obligation to protect the privacy of their patients, which limits what they can ethically post on social media. That doesn't mean that nurses and those in nursing programs have to renounce social media — after all, according to American Nurses Association, "Online content and behavior has the potential to enhance or undermine not only the individual nurse's career, but also the nursing profession."1 To put it another way, networking online can be a valuable tool; and while nurses have tremendous power, they must also demonstrate responsibility, both in person and on the internet.

Social Media Do's for Nurses

  • Use Privacy Settings: While privacy settings are not completely foolproof, most social media platforms allow you to restrict who can see your posts, and these are features you should take advantage of. Facebook, for example, allows you to restrict your audience, review and approve any posts in which you're tagged, and even conduct a privacy checkup to review what content of yours is visible to whom.2, 3 Be vigilant in the use of these features, but don't rely on them exclusively.
  • Be Mindful of What You Post: Privacy settings aren't bulletproof — something you post could be traced back to you via a friend "liking" or "sharing" a post, by way of a screenshot, or through some other means. It's also possible that today's online friends could be tomorrow's professional colleagues — so have fun with social media, but be discreet with personal information about you and your patients. If you have to consider whether it's a good idea to make a particular post, you should err on the side of caution.
  • Engage in Professional Networking: Many nurses find it beneficial to connect with other nurses and health care professionals through LinkedIn. In fact, several leaders prefer this site as their go-to professional social media outlet4. You can follow other nurses and healthcare professionals you admire, and you can join groups of nursing professionals with similar interests. LinkedIn also allows you to post updates about your career, such as speaking engagements, journal articles, committee work, awards or community service. This approach can help you position yourself as an expert in your field and raise your profile. This same strategy works well on other social media platforms like Twitter, too.

Report Breaches of Confidentiality: If you see a colleague posting information about something that breaches the confidentiality or privacy of a patient, you should report it promptly.1 Not only is it crucial for the individual patient's privacy, but it's also important to uphold the standard of patient confidentiality within the nursing profession.

Social Media Don'ts for Nurses

  • Don't Post Any Information About Patients: Patient confidentiality is a vital part of all medical professions. You should never post personal details about a patient online — this includes obvious things like pictures, addresses, and names, as well as information about their condition. A post about your workday can violate a patient's right to privacy if it includes too many details, so it's a good idea to keep such posts as vague as possible or don’t do it at all.
  • Don't Post Disparaging Remarks, Even If They Are Anonymous: You shouldn't disparage others in your social media postings, whether they are patients, coworkers, or employers, even if you don't identify the individuals or organizations. This is both for the sake of privacy and professionalism.
  • Maintain Professional Boundaries: Online contact with patients blurs the boundaries of your personal life and professional life, and such contact has significant ethical implications.1 As much as possible, you should strive to maintain boundaries between your personal and professional online presence. Some nurses and healthcare professionals address this issue by maintaining separate personal and professional social media accounts5.
  • Never Take Pictures or Videos of Patients on Personal Devices: Violating the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act (HIPAA) or state privacy laws, as well as breaches of employer policies, can lead to adverse employment actions and costly claims in civil lawsuits6. These violations also may expose the nurse to criminal charges and licensure discipline6.

Professionalism is Key

These social media do's and don'ts shouldn't come as too much of a surprise — after all, it largely boils down to maintaining professionalism and protecting patients, which is something that nurses must do every single day.

Looking for more useful tips for managing your nursing career? Read professional networking for nurses.

1 American Nurses Association, "6 Tips for Nurses Using Social Media," on the internet at http://www.nursingworld.org/FunctionalMenuCategories/AboutANA/Social-Media/Social-Networking-Principles-Toolkit/6-Tips-for-Nurses-Using-Social-Media-Poster.pdf (viewed June 15, 2016)
2 Facebook, Help Center, "Basic Privacy Settings and Tools," on the internet at https://www.facebook.com/help/325807937506242/ (viewed June 15, 2016)
3 Facebook, Help Center, "What is Privacy Checkup and how can I find it?" on the internet at https://www.facebook.com/help/443357099140264 (viewed June 15, 2016)
4 “Six Smart Ways to Use Social Media for Your Nursing Career” on the internet at: https://www.nursingjobs.com/six-smart-ways-to-use-social-media-in-your-nursing-career/ (viewed June 15, 2016)
5 “Social Media Do's and Don'ts for Medical Practices” on the internet at: http://www.physicianspractice.com/mobile/social-media-dos-and-donts-medical-practices/page/0/2
6 “How to avoid the pitfalls of social media” on the internet at https://americannursetoday.com/how-to-avoid-the-pitfalls-of-social-media/ (viewed June 15, 2016)