6 Social Media Tips for Nurses

Two nursing students sitting at a computer.

It’s undeniable that social media has become a popular resource for nurses. Whether to share information that promotes the profession, discuss industry issues or simply connect with their personal or professional network, nurses use social media to discuss or disseminate information like any other profession.

Nurses, however, are faced with more complicated choices and responsibilities than the average social media user. When used inappropriately, nurses can ultimately find themselves facing legal battles or threats to their licensure. To help you better understand how to navigate the ever-changing landscape, here are six social media tips for nurses.

1. Maintain professional boundaries.

Although electronic media can blur boundaries, it’s important to remember that your professional standards are the same as in any other circumstance.  You’ve probably heard of an employee being put on leave or fired for inappropriate social media posts. Oftentimes, health care workers will make assumptions that defamatory remarks about co-workers or employers are okay if they leave out identification, which isn’t the case. Depending on the situation, this may violate patient privacy or employer confidentiality.

2. Don't share patient information.

In a world where we’re more connected than ever, it’s natural to want to share heartfelt or inspiring stories about patients or people you’ve met through work. However, it’s incredibly important that you refrain from sharing information or photos gained through the nurse-patient relationship.

Additionally, you should refrain from taking photos or videos of a patient on your personal devices. Not only does this violate patient confidentiality, but it could lead to a lawsuit against you or your employer (among other serious repercussions). Even with patient permission, your employer may have strict rules against this. When in doubt, prioritize your workplace policy . While your patient may not report you, your workplace could choose to take action.

3. Think twice before connecting with patients.

Boundaries can become even more blurred if a patient attempts to add you on a social networking site. If you do engage with a patient electronically, keep it professional and stick to topics that aren’t related to his or her health history. If the patient is interested in learning more about health care topics or the health care industry from you, you could talk about the topic broadly while avoiding patient specifics. And remember: even if a patient adds you on social media, it does not give you license to talk about their case. You should exercise extreme caution in every interaction – even identifying yourself as your connection’s nurse could be a breach of patient confidentiality.

4. Double-check your privacy settings.

A great way to reinforce those boundaries between personal and professional information online is by setting privacy parameters in your account settings. When it comes to Facebook, for example, you’re able to control the level of privacy on your profile, posts and activity. What you reveal and who sees it is up to you. Facebook has plenty of pre-set visibility options, but you can get as specific as to customize exactly who sees what information.

Don’t allow these settings to create a false sense of security, though. As a rule of thumb, you should not post anything you do not want your patients, colleagues or employers to see. You should always operate under the assumption that you cannot control your posts and someone is bound to capture and share what you said.

5. Participate in health care discussions.

While it’s important to maintain professionalism, this doesn’t mean you can’t have an opinion or that you have to shy away from participating in health care discussions. It’s okay to stay visible and relevant by talking about your interests and passions within the industry.

Not only does this help spread awareness among non-health care people in your social network, but you could have the potential to inspire young people (or people looking for a change) to enter the field. Plus, if a potential employer does check you out, it will demonstrate your dedication to the field and show you’re thoughtful when it comes to your career. 

6. Hold the profession accountable.

Nurses must uphold strong moral and ethical standards—and that applies to social media. If you notice a colleague or fellow nurse is breaching confidentiality or patient privacy, you should promptly report it to your HIPAA privacy or compliance officer. This includes any content that could harm a patient’s privacy, rights or welfare. 

Health care organizations have tight social media policies in place to protect patients, employees and the workplace. If you’re unaware of your company’s policy, now is a good time to learn it in order to operate within its boundaries. 

This is not an exhaustive list of potential compliance issues, violations and precautions for nurses on social media, but the main takeaway is that nurses have a duty to exercise caution to protect patient confidentiality in every sphere, whether personal or professional. When in doubt, don’t post.

Want to talk more about social media tips for nurses? Tweet us @UBNursing

Published July 27, 2020