Nurses and social media
© 2014 MA Healthcare Ltd
urses’ use of social media and other electronic communications has increased significantly with growing numbers of social media opportunities, platforms and applications including blogs, social networking sites, video sites and online chat rooms and forums. Nurses will often use electronic media, in both a personal and professional context. So is social media an opportunity or a challenge for us as nurses—or is it perhaps both? According to social media statistics for the UK (Social Media Today, 2014), Facebook now has 31.5 million users, an increase of 1.5 million in 12 months;Twitter has 15 million users; and LinkedIn has now reached 10 million users; these numbers are related to UK usage alone. There are also enhanced messaging applications (apps) such as SnapChat specifically for photos and WhatsApp for instant messaging and sharing of photos and videos.
Nurses have a responsibility and accountability to understand social media platforms and guidance.
Social media provides an opportunity for nurses to foster professional connections, promoting timely communications with patients and their families and educate and inform patients and their families, as well as health professionals. There have been instances within organisations across the UK where nurses and healthcare workers have been disciplined for tweeting about patients and posting embarrassing photographs of themselves while on duty. Some have lost their jobs and been referred to the Nursing and Midwifery Council (NMC). In June 2012, the NMC released clear guidance for nurses in relation to the use of social networking sites. Of course, nurses must always adhere to the Code (NMC, 2008), which provides practical tips for responsible use of social and networking sites for nurses. It also sets out principles for employers and educators on social networking policies. The NMC code states that nurses and midwives must ‘uphold the reputation of your profession at all times’ (NMC 2008), while students must ‘uphold the reputation of your chosen profession at all times’ (NMC, 2009). Nurses will put their registration at risk if they share confidential information online, post inappropriate comments about colleagues or patients, use social networking sites to bully or intimidate colleagues, pursue personal relationships with patients or service users, distribute sexually explicit material or use social networking sites in any way which is unlawful (NMC, 2008). However, the NMC makes it clear that this is
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not an exhaustive list. If there is any doubt about whether a particular online activity is acceptable, it can be useful to think through a real-world analogy. While instances of intentional or malicious misuse of social media have occurred, in most cases, the inappropriate disclosure or posting is often unintentional. A number of factors contribute to nurses inadvertently violating patient privacy and confidentiality while using social media. Some of these factors are as follows: ■■ Mistaken belief that the communication or post is private and accessible only to the intended recipient ■■ Mistaken belief that content has been deleted from a site is no longer accessible ■■ Mistaken belief that it’s harmless if private patient information is disclosed if the communication is accessed only by the intended recipient ■■ Mistaken belief that it is acceptable to discuss and refer to patients if they are not identified by name, but referred to by nickname, room number, diagnosis or condition ■■ When an adult or child is vulnerable, it is often necessary to share information with other agencies in order to protect these vulnerable individuals. This must not be confused with a patient’s right to disclose their own personal information without a care-related need for disclosure ■■ The ease of posting and the commonplace nature of sharing information by social media may blur the line between one’s personal and professional life. As nurses, we must understand and apply the concept of professional boundaries as we strive to inspire confidence in our patients and their families. We must treat all patients, their families and our healthcare colleagues professionally and promote patients’ independence. Patients and their families can expect us to act in their best interest and to respect their privacy and dignity. This means that we abstain from obtaining any personal gain at the expense of a patient or their family and refrain from inappropriate involvement in personal relationships with patients. Social media and online sites are channels that will not be right for everyone, but trends suggest their usage will continue to increase. Nurses have a responsibility and accountability to understand social media platforms and NMC guidance so we can incorporate these tools into practice where relevant BJN and ensure we always put our patients first.
Rory Farrelly NHS Greater Glasgow and Clyde Director of Nursing Acute Services Division
Nursing and Midwifery Council (2008) The code: Standards of conduct, performance and ethics for nurses and midwives. http://tinyurl.com/35om3cs (accessed 18 March 2014) Nursing and Midwifery Council (2009) Guidance on professional conduct for nursing and midwifery students. http://tinyurl. com/6bxh3yk (accessed 18 March 2014) Social Media Today (2014) UK Social Media Statistics for 2014. http://tinyurl.com/p597ogu (accessed 19 March 2014)
The views expressed in this column are those of the author
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