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Social Media Tips for Nurses (Part 1)

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You know there are some rules regarding social media in your hospital or healthcare in general. For example, it’s obvious that you can’t post your patient’s names or identifying factors on Facebook or TikTok. Still, every year, some healthcare provider loses their job because they over-shared on social media. 

It’s easy to forget that your little world of social media followers isn’t really very small at all. For example, your Facebook friend Aunt Tabby may have a sister-in-law whose daughter goes to school with your patient.

See how quickly that escalated?

Nurses know the big ones. But, according to the HIPAA Journal, there are some common points of HIPAA violations. 

  • Using your access to learn personal information, you don’t need to do your job
  • Telling friends or family about a patient you mutually know (and remember, you should assume any person you are speaking to knowns the patient)
  • Giving personal health information to someone who doesn’t need it or isn’t authorized to receive it
  • Discarding personal health information in the regular trash or leaving it out for others to see
  • Sharing personal information on social media

Where this gets tricky is the definition of personal information. We aren’t just talking about name and date of birth. Personal information is ANY detail that can be traced back to an individual. Here are some examples:

  • You work in a rural hospital, and a baby is delivered in your parking lot. Mom and baby are doing well.
  • You work in a neuro ICU in the only Level 1 or 2 hospital in the area and post about a cardiac arrest on your unit. You feel the patient should have been DNR.
  • You post some details about the behavior of a frequent flyer at your hospital as a joke.

It’s easy for people connected to those patients to discern that you discuss the patient in question. How many babies are delivered in a parking lot in your area nightly? It’s probably pretty rare. So even if mom and baby are doing well, you are sharing privileged information.

You may never post that you work in the neuro ICU in your cardiac arrest story. Still, your timeline or profile tells the whole story after a little sleuthing. Would you say grandma should have been a DNR to the daughter’s face? Especially now that she’s dead?

Suppose the overdose patient is a frequent flyer for you. In that case, you can bet the same is true for other hospitals in the area and that their family members are well aware of their signature calling signs.  

If you share a situation, even without a name or age, you are opening up the door for a HIPPA violation.

Now that doesn’t mean you can’t post about a trend you are seeing or a concern you have; it just means you should be careful not to reference a specific patient.  

If you aren’t sure if it could be traced back, don’t post it at all. If your subject matter details hundreds of patients, you are safe to give your opinion or talk about the problem (but make sure to read part 2 of this post). Remember, though, we read information through our personal lens and the situations we have been dealing with. Even if you talk about drug abusers or COVID non-compliant patients as a group, there is someone on your feed who is someone or knows someone treated at your facility for the same problem. They may feel like you are talking about them or their loved ones.

As long as there is no possible way to trace it back, you are free from HIPPA violation, but that doesn’t mean you aren’t free from a HIPAA investigation. Just remember to look at all avenues for tracking, not just specific details about the patient. 

Keep your posts centered on cute animals and trending dances when in doubt. 

Amanda Ernst, DNP, RN, CEN

Amanda Ernst, DNP, RN, CEN

Author

Amanda is an ER nurse with 10 years of healthcare experience. She currently works as a nurse educator and as an adjunct professor for several schools. She also works as a freelance healthcare writer in her spare time. Amanda thinks the greatest thing about nursing is the endless possibilities and opportunities to learn. What have you learned today?

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