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Privacy and Social Media issues

UAMS Nurses Facebook page

Social media is pervasive; by definition it follows us around and permeates every aspect of our lives. For those who have grown up with social media, it’s sometimes hard to see the potential threats that a Facebook post or at-work Instagram selfie pose to patient privacy and by extension, your job.

Social media isn’t entirely unwelcome in the workplace; in fact most businesses these days have a Facebook page as a matter of course, including hospitals, clinics and doctors’ offices. But these sites are carefully monitored. 

“The UAMS Nurses Facebook page was started in February of 2015. We use our Facebook page to promote community service, recognition and education opportunities for the nurses at UAMS,” said Susan Trussell, RN, BSN, IBCLC. “The posts that feature our staff’s accomplishments always receive the greatest number of likes, such as Nurse of the Month and Daisy Award winners for the hospital.   

“In the past 3 months, we have started posting the Hot Job of the Week to our page so that we can share some of the many job opportunities at UAMS. This allows RNs to share jobs on their Facebook page with colleagues they know in the community. It also allows them to possibly participate in the RN Refer a Nurse program.”  

In most other situations, however, social media should be avoided at work. You must check with your company’s policy concerning social media usage to avoid problems up to and including termination. 

“You’ve been hired to perform a job; unless that job title is ‘Social Media Manager’, stay off your phone and Facebook at work,” summed up Meggan Spicer with Practice Plus. “You’re not being paid to text your BFF. This is not only important in your first job, but every job thereafter.”

As damaging as posting inappropriate content or texting during work hours can be to your career, such behavior pales in comparison to the threat of a breach of patient’s private information, all of which is considered confidential and protected by law as outlined in the 1996 Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act (HIPPA). 

“Nurses have an ethical and legal obligation to protect confidential information and to refrain from obtaining information that is not relevant to direct patient care,” said Pamela Ashcraft of UCA School of Nursing.

Some ways to ensure confidentiality of PHI include never leaving patient information displayed where it may be viewed by non-authorized personnel, never discussing patient information in an area where unauthorized persons may overhear or leaving a computer terminal or documents unattended.

“Cell phones on the units are also a big no,” said Jessica Rouse with Rivendell. “Patient confidentiality can be breached so easily. Be careful of doctors who want nurses to text them for orders; this is all patient information. It can be as simple as leaving a computer screen open with patient information and another patient views it. That person’s personal information has been breached.”

While many of these actions stand to reason, nurses often get tripped up by much more innocent-seeming activities.

“Even with all the HIPAA training that occurs before licensure, newcomers still may get caught up in compromised protected information,” said Janice Ivers, of National Park College. “One way that a new nurse may not consider is taking pictures at work – a big no-no! Also, never assume that the person on the telephone is family and be cautious of what information you give out over the phone.” 

“Think before taking a selfie at work, a patient could be in the background or a patient’s personal information on the computer behind you,” Spicer said.  “Don’t talk about a patient with your co-workers while having lunch at a restaurant. In today’s world, there are always eyes and ears watching and listening to your every move.”

Nursing Notes

“It’s good to have some diversity in the work setting, especially when you have nurses who have been working in the same field or facility for a while. It is nice to bring in a fresh set of eyes with a different outlook and perspective. We make diversity and cultural competency a priority and an expectation at our facility. Communicating and understanding others’ cultural beliefs and ideas are keys to working with a diverse team. Having a diverse team can lead to better options and practices of patient care.”


Beth Williams, RN Director of Nursing, The BridgeWay
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