Answer must be at least 150-200 words in length for total.
Read the page 11 on NCSBN Social Media Brochure document below and answer the following questions:
Page 11 of the NCSBN brochure describes common myths and misunderstandings of social media. Which one of these surprised you?
What steps will you take to make you avoid disclosing confidential patient information?
In light of the COVID-19 breakout, how have you seen social media being used by medical professionals? Based on what you have seen has patient confidentiality been violated? Why or Why not?
A Nurse’s Guide to
the Use of Social Media
A nurse must understand
and apply these
guidelines for the use
of social media.
A Nurse’s Guide to
the Use of Social Media
he use of social media and other electronic
communication is expanding exponentially
as the number of social media outlets, platforms
and applications available continue to increase.
Individuals use blogs, social networking sites,
video sites, online chat rooms and forums to
communicate both personally and professionally
with others. Social media is an exciting and
valuable tool when used wisely. The very nature
of this medium, however, can pose a risk as it
offers instantaneous posting opportunities that
allow little time for reflective thought and carries
the added burden that what is posted on the
Internet is discoverable by a court of law even
when it is long deleted.
Nurses are welcome to use social media in
their personal lives. This may include having
a Facebook page, a Twitter feed or blogging
on various websites. Nurses can positively
use electronic media to share workplace
experiences, particularly those events that are
challenging or emotionally charged, but it is
imperative not to mention patients by name
or provide any information or details that could
possibly identify them in order to protect
patients’ right to privacy.
Social Media in the Workplace
Social media can benefit health care in a variety of ways,
including fostering professional connections, promoting
timely communication with patients and family members,
and educating and informing consumers and health care
professionals. Social media provides nurses with a way to
express their feelings, and reflect or seek support from
friends, colleagues, peers or virtually anyone on the
Internet. Journaling and reflective practice are recognized
as effective tools in nursing practice, and the Internet
provides an alternative media for nurses to engage in
these helpful activities. Without a sense of caution, how-
ever, these understandable needs and potential benefits
may result in the nurse disclosing too much information,
and violating patient privacy and confidentiality.
Health care organizations that utilize electronic and social
media typically have policies governing employee use of
such media in the workplace. Components of these poli-
cies often address personal use of employer computers
and equipment, personal computing during work hours,
and the types of websites that can be accessed from
employer computers. Health care organizations also
maintain careful control of websites maintained by or
associated with the organization, limiting what may be
posted to the site and by whom.
The employer’s policies, however, typically do not
address the nurse’s use of social media to discuss
workplace issues outside of work on home computers,
personally-owned phones and other hand-held electronic
devices. It is in this context that the nurse may face poten-
tially serious consequences for the inappropriate use of
Jamie has been working in hospice care for the last
six years and one of her patients, Maria, maintained
a hospital-sponsored communication page to keep
friends and family updated on her battle with cancer.
One day, Maria posted about her depression. As her
nurse, Jamie wanted to provide support, so she
posted, “I know the last week has been difficult.
Hopefully the new happy pill will help, along with
the increased dose of morphine. I will see you on
Wednesday.” The site automatically listed the user’s
name with each comment. The next day, Jamie was
shopping at the local grocery store when a friend
stopped her to ask about Maria’s condition. “I saw
your post yesterday. I didn’t know you were taking
care of Maria,” the friend said. “I hope that new
medication helps with her pain.”
This is an example of a violation of confidentiality through
social media. While Jamie had Maria’s best intentions
at heart by trying to offer her words of support, she
inadvertently disclosed information about a patient on
a social media site. Everyone who read that post now
knows about Maria’s medication and increase in mor-
phine, violating her right to privacy and confidentiality.
Instances of inappropriate use of electronic media by
nurses such as this have been reported to boards of
nursing (BONs) and, in some cases, reported in nursing
literature and to the media.
Confidentiality and Privacy
To understand the limits of appropriate use of social
media, it is important to have an understanding of
confidentiality and privacy in the health care context.
Confidentiality and privacy are related, but distinct
Any patient information learned by the nurse during the
course of treatment must be safeguarded by that nurse.
Such information may only be disclosed to other
members of the health care team for the purpose of
providing care for the patient.
Confidential information should be shared only with the
patient’s informed consent, when legally required or
where failure to disclose the information could result in
significant harm. Beyond these very limited exceptions, a
nurse is obligated to safeguard confidential information.
As a licensed practical nurse for more than 20 years,
Bob knew the importance of safeguarding a patient’s
privacy and confidentiality. One day, he used his
personal cell phone to take photos of Claire, a
resident in the group home where he worked. Bob
received permission from Claire’s brother to take the
photo since she was unable to give consent due to her
mental and physical condition. That evening, Bob ran
into William, a former employee of the group home.
While catching up, he showed William the photo of
Claire and discussed her condition with him. The
administrator of the group home later learned of
Bob’s actions and terminated his employment for
breach of confidentiality.
Bob thought it was okay for him to take Claire’s photo
because he had the consent of a family member. He also
thought it was acceptable for him to discuss Claire’s
condition because William previously worked with Claire.
So why was this behavior wrong? Because, first, merely
asking Claire’s brother for permission is not obtaining a
valid consent. Second, confidential information should
not be disclosed to persons no longer involved in the care
of a patient. Even though Bob made an honest mistake,
confidentiality rules must be strictly enforced to protect a
patient’s right to privacy.
Privacy relates to the
patient’s expectation and
right to be treated with
dignity and respect.
relationships are built on
trust. Patients need to be
confident that their most
personal information and
their basic dignity will be
protected by the nurse.
Patients will be hesitant
to disclose personal infor-
mation if they fear it will
be disseminated beyond
those who have a legiti-
mate “need to know.”
Any breach of this trust,
even inadvertent, damages
the nurse/patient relation-
ship and the general
trustworthiness of the
profession of nursing.
Federal law reinforces and
further defines privacy through the Health Insurance
Portability and Accountability Act (HIPAA). HIPAA
regulations are intended to protect patient privacy and
confidentiality by defining individually identifiable infor-
mation and establishing how this information may be
used, by whom and under what circumstances. The defini-
tion of individually identifiable information includes any
information that relates to the past, present or future
physical or mental health of an individual, or provides
enough information that leads someone to believe the
information could be used to identify an individual.
Breaches of patient confidentiality or privacy can be
intentional or inadvertent and can occur in a variety of
ways. Nurses may breach confidentiality or privacy with
information they post via social media sites. Examples
may include comments in which patients are described
with enough sufficient detail to be identified, referring
to patients in a degrading or demeaning manner, or post-
ing videos or photos of patients.
Privacy is the patient’s
expectation to be
treated with dignity
Emily, a 20-year-old junior nursing student, wasn’t
aware of the potential repercussions that could occur
when she took a photo of Tommy, a 3-year-old
leukemia patient in a pediatric unit, on her personal
cell phone. When Tommy’s mom went to the
cafeteria, Emily asked him if she could take his picture,
which Tommy immediately consented to. Emily took
his picture as she wheeled him into his room. She
posted Tommy’s photo on her Facebook page with
this caption: “This is my 3-year-old leukemia patient
who is bravely receiving chemotherapy! He is the
reason I am so proud to be a nurse!” In the photo,
Room 324 of the pediatric unit was visible. Days later,
the dean of the nursing program called Emily into her
office. A nurse from the hospital found the photo
Emily posted of Tommy on Facebook and reported
it to hospital officials who also contacted Emily’s
While Emily never intended to breach the patient’s confi-
dentiality, the hospital faced a HIPAA violation. From
Emily’s post, people were able to identify Tommy as a
cancer patient and the hospital where he was receiving
treatment. School officials expelled Emily from the
nursing program for breaching patient confidentiality
and HIPAA violations. The nursing program was also
barred from using the pediatric unit for their students.
Emily’s innocent, yet inappropriate action of posting a
patient’s photo had repercussions for her, the nursing
program and the hospital.
But what if Emily removed the photo hours later? If it’s
taken down, no harm, no foul, right? No. Anything that
exists on a server is there forever and could be retrieved
later, even after deletion; therefore, it would still be
discoverable in a court of law. Further, someone could
have taken a screen shot of her Facebook page and
posted it on a public website. Patient information and
photos should never be posted on social media websites.
Even after being deleted, the photo is still on a server
and possibly posted somewhere else on the Internet.
As we’ve seen with Jamie, Bob and Emily, potential
consequences for inappropriate use of social and
electronic media by nurses vary. Consequences depend,
in part, on the particular nature of the nurse’s conduct.
Instances of inappropriate use of social and electronic
media may be reported to the BON. Laws outlining the
basis for disciplinary action by a BON vary between juris-
dictions. Depending on the laws of a jurisdiction, a BON
may investigate reports of inappropriate disclosures on
social media sites by a nurse on the grounds of:
Moral turpitude (defined as conduct that is considered
contrary to community standards of justice, honesty or
Mismanagement of patient records;
Revealing a privileged communication; and
Breach of confidentiality.
If the allegations are found to be true, the nurse may face
disciplinary action by the BON, including a reprimand or
sanction, assessment of a monetary fine, or temporary or
permanent loss of licensure.
Improper use of social media by nurses may violate state
and federal laws established to protect patient privacy
and confidentiality. Such violations may result in both
civil and criminal penalties, including fines and possible
jail time. A nurse may face personal liability and be indi-
vidually sued for defamation, invasion of privacy or
harassment. Particularly flagrant misconduct on social
media websites may also raise liability under state or
federal regulations focused on preventing patient abuse
If the nurse’s conduct violates the policies of the employer,
the nurse may face employment consequences, including
termination. Additionally, the actions of the nurse may
damage the reputation of the health care organization,
or subject the organization to a lawsuit or regulatory
Social Media’s Impact on Patient Safety and Care
Another concern arising from social media misuse is its
effect on team-based patient care. Online comments by
a nurse regarding co-workers, even if posted from home
during nonwork hours, may constitute lateral violence.
Lateral violence includes disruptive behaviors of intimida-
tion and bullying, which may be perpetuated in person
or via the Internet. This is sometimes referred to as
“cyber bullying.” Such activity is a cause for concern for
current and future employers, and regulators because
they negatively affect team-based care, thus creating
patient-safety ramifications. The line between speech
protected by labor laws, the First Amendment and
the ability of an employer to impose expectations on
employees outside of work is still being determined.
Nonetheless, negative comments can be detrimental to
a cohesive health care delivery team and may result in
sanctions against the nurse.
Common Myths and Misunderstandings
of Social Media
While instances of intentional or malicious misuse of
social media have occurred, in most cases, inappropriate
disclosure is unintentional. A number of factors may con-
tribute to a nurse inadvertently violating patient privacy
and confidentiality while using social media, including:
A mistaken belief that the communication or post is
private and accessible only to the intended recipient.
The nurse may fail to recognize that content once
posted or sent can be disseminated to others.
A mistaken belief that content deleted from a site is
no longer accessible. The moment something is posted,
it lives on a server that can always be discoverable in a
court of law.
A mistaken belief that it is harmless if private information
about patients is disclosed if the communication is
accessed only by the intended recipient. This is still a
breach of confidentiality.
A mistaken belief that it is acceptable to discuss or refer
to patients if they are not identified by name, but
referred to by a nickname, room number, diagnosis or
condition. This too is a breach of confidentiality and
demonstrates disrespect for patient privacy.
Confusion between a patient’s right to disclose personal
information about himself or herself (or a health care
organization’s right to disclose otherwise protected
information with a patient’s consent) and the need for
health care providers to refrain from disclosing patient
information without a care-related need for the
The ease of posting and the commonplace nature of
sharing information via social media may appear to blur
the line between one’s personal and professional lives.
The quick, easy and efficient technology enabling use
of social media reduces not only the time it takes to
post, but also the time to consider whether the post is
appropriate and what ramifications may come from
posting inappropriate content.
How to Avoid Disclosing Confidential
With awareness and caution, nurses can avoid inadver-
tently disclosing confidential or private information
about patients. The following guidelines are intended
to minimize the risks of using social media:
Nurses must recognize that they have an ethical and
legal obligation to maintain patient privacy and
confidentiality at all times.
Nurses are strictly prohibited from transmitting by way
of any electronic media any patient-related image. In
addition, nurses are restricted from transmitting any
information that may be reasonably anticipated to
violate patient rights to confidentiality or privacy, or
otherwise degrade or embarrass the patient.
Nurses must not share, post or otherwise disseminate
any information or images about a patient or
information gained in the nurse/patient relationship
with anyone unless there is a patient-care-related need
to disclose the information or other legal obligations
to do so.
Nurses must not identify patients by name, or post or
publish information that may lead to the identification of
a patient. Limiting access to postings through privacy
settings is not sufficient to ensure privacy.
Nurses must not refer to patients in a disparaging
manner, even if the patient is not identified.
Nurses must not take photos or videos of patients on
personal devices, including cell phones. Nurses should
follow employer policies for taking photographs or
videos of patients for treatment or other legitimate
purposes using employer-provided devices.
Nurses must maintain professional boundaries in the
use of electronic media. Like in-person relationships,
the nurse has an obligation to establish, communicate
and enforce professional boundaries with patients in
the online environment. Use caution when having online
social contact with patients or former patients. Online
contact with patients or former patients blurs the
distinction between a professional and personal
relationship. The fact that a patient may initiate contact
with the nurse does not permit the nurse to engage in
a personal relationship with the patient.1 Nurses must
consult employer policies or an appropriate leader
within the organization for guidance regarding work
Nurses must promptly report any identified breach of
confidentiality or privacy.
Nurses must be aware of and comply with employer
policies regarding use of employer-owned computers,
cameras and other electronic devices, and use of
personal devices in the workplace.
Nurses must not make disparaging remarks about
employers or co-workers. Do not make threatening,
harassing, profane, obscene, sexually explicit, racially
derogatory, homophobic or other offensive comments.
Nurses must not post content or otherwise speak on
behalf of the employer unless authorized to do so and
must follow all applicable policies of the employer.
1 Nurses may want to consult NCSBN’s “A Nurse’s Guide to
Professional Boundaries” for more information on this issue.
THE NURSE’S CHALLENGE
Be cognizant of feelings and behavior.
Be observant of the behavior of other professionals.
Always act in the best interest of the patient.
Social and electronic media have tremendous potential
for strengthening personal relationships and providing
valuable information to health care consumers, as well as
affording nurses a valuable opportunity to interface with
colleagues from around the world. Nurses need to be
aware of the potential consequences of disclosing
patient-related information via social media, and mindful
of employer policies, relevant state and federal laws, and
professional standards regarding patient privacy and
confidentiality and its application to social and electronic
media. By being careful and conscientious, nurses may
enjoy the personal and professional benefits of social and
electronic media without violating patient privacy and
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