Social Media Etiquette for Nursing Professionals

Social media is a powerful tool that almost everyone uses, but it’s important to remember that what’s shared on social media can have negative effects on your life and career.   

After a rough day at work, an ER nurse vents on Facebook about her exhausting shift, her irritable patients, the drug addict that staggered in, and the drunk that urinated on himself in the waiting area. 
Despite not mentioning any names or posting any pictures, a post intended to be harmless leads to a complaint being filed with her state board of nursing alleging “unprofessional conduct.”  
This is a hypothetical, but very realistic example. Once a complaint is filed with the BoN, the nurse will need to mount a defense. If she doesn’t have her own professional liability insurance the bill for the attorney, if she can afford one, will be her responsibility. Without representation, the nurse could end up plea bargaining with the board and taking a year of probation, leading to a mark on her record that permanently affects her ability to get a job. 

Common Pitfalls to Avoid When Posting on Social Media 

Social media is intended to create connections between friends, family, colleagues, and allow people to share their lives with the world. However, there are risks associated with posting on social media especially for nurses:
  • Unprofessional behavior. Posting photos or comments with the following content are all considered examples of unprofessional behavior: 
    • Alcohol or drug use 
    • Profane, sexually explicit, or racially derogatory comments 
    • Negative comments about co-workers and employers 
    • Threatening or harassing comment 
  • Patient privacy and/or confidentiality. Posting patient photos, negative comments about patients, or details that might identify patients, even if they are unintentional, are all considered breaches of patient confidentiality. 
Violating patient confidentiality or behaving unprofessionally will result in a complaint filed with the state board of nursing. Complaints can be filed by virtually anyone, and even deleted posts can be recovered and used in a complaint filing. The state board can impose a variety of penalties, including fines, probation, suspensions, and a permanent revocation of licensure. 
Licensing complaints are extremely common and are 30 times more likely to be filed against nurses than malpractice lawsuits. Between 2010 and 2014, there were 3,357 malpractice suits filed against nurses and 96,659 licensing complaints.* 

10 Simple Do’s and Don’ts When Posting  

  1. Always maintain patient privacy and confidentiality. 
  2. Do not post patient photos or videos of patients or identify patients by name. 
  3. Do not refer to patients in a disparaging manner, even if patients are not identified. 
  4. Use caution when connecting with patients or former patients via social media. 
  5. Do not post inappropriate photos, or negative comments about colleagues or employers. 
  6. Never discuss drug and alcohol use. 
  7. Use social media to post positive comments about your workplace and its staff. 
  8. Share educational information that may benefit others, such as safety notices and medical news. 
  9. It is permissible to refer to doctors, specialists and healthcare practices. 
  10. Use social media to enhance the role of nursing in the community, among friends and the public. 
Remember that posting, tweeting, texting and blogging are not private communications and can be used against you! 

As a best practice, all social media accounts should be set on private. Even with this layer of privacy, exercise caution with all social media content. If a complaint is filed against a nursing license for any reason, the state board of nursing will conduct an independent investigation that will almost certainly include an audit of all social media platforms. 

Nursing professionals are held to a higher standard than others based on their role as caretakers and have intimate access to patient’s private information. Their social media presence should reflect this heightened responsibility. 

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