With the ever-growing popularity of social networking sites such as Facebook and Twitter, the lines become less clear between what is public and what could potentially be a violation of patient privacy for all nurses.
With social networking becoming an integral part of our daily lives, the boundaries between social conduct and professional nursing misconduct are becoming increasingly difficult to navigate.
This social connection between patient and healthcare provider can open a myriad of breaches of patient privacy.
Pictures of patients posting comments regarding care provided, or even a simple “don’t forget to take your medicine” to a patient on a social media network, could be a violation of patient privacy and conflict with HIPAA rules and regulations.
HIPAA, (the law that protects us all against unauthorized disclosure of protected health information) can result in fines up to $250,000 and/or imprisonment. The discovery of a “nurse-patient” relationship via Facebook or other social-network could be considered a violation of protected patient or health information.
Two years ago, Tri-City Medical Center in Oceanside CA fired five nurses for allegedly discussing patient cases on Facebook. And that was just the start of the social media revolution.
In another case, nurses who had an interesting patient decided to take photos of X-Rays and were fired for HIPAA violations after posting them on Facebook.
In case you are wondering how to express your freedom of speech and still protect the privacy of patients, and not compromise your profession:
1. Understand the law – Know the policies and guidelines for HIPAA and protecting patient information.
2. Remember - Patient privacy and safety go hand-in-hand.
3. Take a course or a seminar in patient privacy and social media.
4. When in doubt, do not connect, update or tweet – If you have to think twice, it’s probably best to refrain.
The bottom line for all nurses using social networking is, if you have a social media presence, keep it separate from your profession, keep it positive, and most importantly, keep it patient-free!