As part of our nursing ethics, it is our responsibility to our patients and to the nursing community to protect the privacy of the very people we care for, as well the institutions in which we provide patient care.
As nurses, we share many happy and exciting moments with our patients (such as the birth of a new child) as well as the most difficult and sad ones, like surgical procedures and even loss of life. These moments are tender, sacred and most of all private.
The commitment to keep personal patient matters private has been a part of the ethical code of conduct for nurses long before the invention of social networking sites such as Facebook and Twitter.
The foundational principal of the “Do’s and Don’ts” of nursing conduct were a part of many nursing graduation ceremonies which were included in the resounding “The Nightingale Pledge”.
The line “I will do all in my power to maintain and elevate the standard of my profession, and will hold in confidence all personal matters committed to my keeping and all family affairs coming to my knowledge in the practice of my calling” reminds us of the honor and privilege it is to provide nursing care with discretion in the art of nursing.
In this age of social media, blogging and networking sites, nurses are now interlinked to patient communities, topics and issues more than ever. We have the ability to connect with our profession, share information and best practices like never before. All things considered, this immediate exchange of information can cause us to face an uneasy relationship with the Internet.
The American Nurses Association (ANA) Code of Ethics reminds us, “The nurse advocates for an environment that provides for sufficient physical privacy, including privacy for discussions of a personal nature and policies and practices that protect the confidentiality of information.”
Nurses must be careful in thought and judgment in order to not take actions that might risk exposing sensitive or protected health information, jeopardize patient privacy or the reputation of the agencies we work for.
In the flash of a post on Facebook, or in the twinkle of a “tweet” on Twitter, privacy and ethical standards in nursing can easily be violated.
The immediate nature of information sharing on social media sites can make it challenging for health care management to monitor and regulate. As a solution, most hospitals have adopted a “no tolerance policy” and as an added measure, blocking networking and social media sites from its network.
Here is a list of the top 5 do’s and don’ts for the nursing community using social media sites:
- Don’t discuss or disclose sensitive or Protected Health Information (PHI). Seems like a no-brainer for health care professionals, however, even “friending” a patient on Facebook or answering a health care question in a public forum such as Twitter can be a violation of patient privacy.
- Do exercise judgment when posting personal opinions and photos. It is wise to separate explicit professional details, such as opinions on management, refrain from discussing your colleagues and sharing “OMG” clinical situations from your social media presence.
- Do respect HIPAA privacy laws and adhere to policy. Follow your employer policy, and exercise good judgment when it comes to social media use. Here's a database of social media policies for various hospitals and corporations.
- Don’t expect any privacy when posting on social networking sites. Some reports suggest that employers are now requesting access to your Social Networking sites as well intermittently monitoring content. Be aware of your Internet footprint and the content associated with your name both personally and professionally.
- Do make the decision to use networking/social media sites for educational and professional networking. Social media sites can be very useful, empowering and rewarding for nurses. Using networking sites is a great way to stay connected and keep current and nursing trends and topics.