As a nurse, you may think when you post on Facebook or enter into a discussion on a nursing forum, your remarks are private and protected. But in reality, anything you post on social media can potentially become public, resulting in severe issues for your license and your career. In this post, you’ll learn about common social media pitfalls, how they can impact your license, and when you should contact a nurse defense attorney.
Follow Your Organization’s Policy
The first rule of thumb for safely posting to social media is to always adhere to your organization’s social media policy. If you aren’t confident whether your organization has a policy, ask. If you know it does, refresh yourself so you know your online behavior is in line with their requirements.
Nurses are most likely to run into trouble on social media when they disclose confidential patient information that violates HIPAA standards. The National Council of State Boards of Nursing states that confidential information can only be shared with the patient’s informed consent, if it is required by law, or if harm would result from a lack of disclosure.
There are many ways confidentiality can be violated on social media platforms. Posting photos or videos of patients, pictures that contain patient records, or descriptions of patients’ conditions or treatments can all be problematic regarding privacy. Even sharing a tiny detail that violates a patient’s confidentiality can become a problem if someone who is not authorized to access the information gets their hands on it.
Keep in mind that even if a patient says you can post their photo online, you could still face disciplinary action if your organization’s social media policy outlaws posting patient photos. Some nurses think that posting a photo is acceptable as long as the patient’s face isn’t visible, but there are still ways the patient could be identified. For example, if their ID bracelet is visible, their medical records appear in the background, or even if the injury in the photo is rare or specific, the patient’s identity could be uncovered. The best policy is to avoid posting photos altogether.
Don’t Assume Platforms are “Private”
While social media platforms like Facebook often lead nurses to believe that their privacy is protected, this is not always the case. Group messaging with other nurses about a patient, commenting about patients in closed forums, or posting images in a place you believe is privacy-protected can be problematic. The reality is that even when you send a picture or comment privately, there is always the possibility that it could become public.
Don’t Post Workplace or Patient Complaints
We all have bad days, and nursing is an especially stressful profession. But making disparaging or critical remarks on social media about your workplace or your patients can cause a variety of problems. For starters, complaining about your job duties, administrators, co-workers, or workplace policies makes you look unprofessional, which in turn makes your organization look unprofessional and could lead to disciplinary action.
In addition, never make posts or comments that could be interpreted as harassing, sexually explicit, racially offensive, homophobic, or otherwise controversial, as this could result in disciplinary action from the Board of Nursing.
Consequences for your License
If you use social media inappropriately, you may be faced with differing degrees of disciplinary action. Your workplace could take action against you for violating their social media policy. The California State Board of Nursing could also recommend more severe disciplinary action for violating patient privacy. Depending on the severity of the circumstances, you could be faced with fines, license suspension or loss, firing, criminal charges, or even jail time.
That said, everyone makes mistakes, and the rules of social media are constantly evolving. If your license is at risk due to inappropriate social media behavior, the best action you can take is to talk to a lawyer as soon as possible. Nursing lawyers like those at SJ Harris Law understand the specifics of nursing-related license issues and are here to help with your case so you can keep your license and career intact.
Contact us today for a free consultation at 323-794-0701.
This blog is meant to be informational. It is not meant to be all-encompassing legal advice. If you are facing a situation involving your professional license, seek counsel from a licensed attorney.