The worldwide prevalence of social media platforms, as well as the extent to which people interact through social media on a daily basis, has inevitably led to the process of health professionals embracing various platforms in order to connect with the medical community and the general public. However, sometimes, when engaging with media, medical professionals may unintentionally violate some of the standards of quality and ethical care. For example, in research conducted by Varghese et al. (2019), the authors discuss how surgeons who use social media may violate patient confidentiality when sharing videos or photos for educational purposes or violate professional ethics by engaging in informal communication with the patients. Nurses, for their part, are also at risk of misusing social media by disclosing sensitive information about patients or engaging in lateral violence (National Council of State Boards of Nursing [NCSBN], 2018). Hence, it is imperative for every nurse to reflect on their use of social media on the matter of potential unethical conduct.
After analyzing personal use of social media platforms, how many potential confidentiality breaches may happen unintentionally on a daily basis. Clearly, I have never engaged in online behavior that would explicitly disclose work- and patient-related sensitive information, including photo and video materials, using people’s names, and sharing any information from their medical records. However, quite frequently, people feel safe about sharing personal concerns and emotions in a private chat with friends and family.
Based on my personal experience, I know that sometimes, sharing is key in terms of preventing burnout and emotional breakdowns. As a result, I sometimes may mention some work-related concerns while texting. Although these comments by no means include information that might identify a patient or situation discussed, I am not sure that none of the messages could be traced back to disclosing sensitive information. Indeed, according to the NCSBN (2018), many nurses share a mistaken belief that communication with one intended recipient is safe and cannot be accessed by third parties. Hence, when using social media platforms for informal communication in the future, I will make sure that my messages cannot possibly violate anyone’s privacy by addressing my emotions without any reference to medical practice and place of employment.
Nurses have always been regarded as community health advocates, as they are responsible for promoting healthy behavior among the population and preventing adverse health outcomes. The very process of promoting a healthy lifestyle is a complicated endeavor, as many people remain ignorant and unwilling to take care of their health and community. As a result, when nurses themselves demonstrate engagement in unhealthy behavior, the situation deteriorates. For example, when medical workers publicly graphic materials of them engaging in the use of licit drugs, both patients and employers may find such behavior unprofessional and project alcohol or tobacco use on their interaction with patients (Edge, 2017). In order to avoid such misjudgments, organizations such as American Nurses Association (ANA, n.d.) recommend sharing personal postings using privacy settings that help hide this information from the general audience.
However, as far as more challenging aspects of confidentiality are concerned, nurses are to thoroughly examine their social media presence and behavioral patterns on the matter of obeying three primary HIPPA rules. Thus, when nurses disclose any information related to patients and their treatment, they explicitly violate privacy and security rules provided for in the HIPPA guidelines (US Department of Health & Human Services, 2020). An example of such a breach may be a nurse posting an Instagram Story with a selfie from the workplace and not paying attention to the background, which may contain a medical record or any other sensitive information. Once such a violation happens, health care workers are obliged to notify the administration about the privacy and security breach.
Apart from the professional and ethical provisions of social media use, it is also of paramount importance to define whether the posts and messages shared via social media platforms do not undermine the value and dignity of others. Considering the fact that I do not have much time to spend on social media due to my workload, the amount of content I share is rather limited and unrelated to certain individuals or the place of my employment. Some of the fundamental Christian values are respecting one’s dignity and autonomy. Guided by these principles, I believe that human freedoms and rights demonstrate autonomy are limited once these freedoms violate the autonomy and dignity of others. For this reason, sharing confidential information and publicly engaging in inappropriate behavior undermines the human value and dignity of individuals who did not make a choice to expose this information.
Although my social media presence does not explicitly violate professional guidelines or human dignity, not using social media tools for good is also unproductive. Hence, addressing educational topics on my social media platforms would be a great way to reinforce public health promotion and enhance people’s values by encouraging them to take care of themselves and those around them. Considering all the aforementioned facts, it may be concluded that the use of social media platforms has now become an integral part of one’s personal and professional life. However, instead of perceiving them as merely communication and entertainment tools, medical professionals should be alert to all the implications stemming from social media misuse.
Varghese, T. K., Entwistle, J. W., Mayer, J. E., Moffatt-Bruce, S. D., & Sade, R. M., (2019). Ethical standards for cardiothoracic surgeons’ participation in social media. The Journal of Thoracic and Cardiovascular Surgery, 158(4), 1139-1143. Web.
National Council of State Boards of Nursing. (2018). A nurse’s guide to the use of social media [PDF document]. Web.
American Nurses Association. (n.d.). Social media. Web.
US Department of Health & Human Services. (2020). The HIPPA privacy rule. Web.
Edge, W. (2017). Nursing professionalism: Impact of social media use among nursing students. Journal of Healthcare Communications, 2(3), 2472-1654. Web.