A recent report found that an estimated 3.84 billion people use social media, and each year, that number rises1. With more and more people sharing and consuming social media, it is essential to incorporate best practices while utilizing these platforms.
In the healthcare industry, it is of the utmost importance to be aware of your social media practices. Caregivers who aren’t careful can open themselves up to lawsuits that can result in malpractice claims, disciplinary action from licensing boards, and even termination2.
With the growing popularity of apps that give the illusion of impermanent posts, such as SnapChat, it is even more crucial to be aware that what you post is not always temporary, even if you believe your posts are deleted or erased.
Social Media is a minefield, but here are some tips and considerations to help you navigate your way.
Public vs. Private and Does It Even Matter
Before you post, you need to stop to think about who will see your post and if the post is appropriate for the audience that is going to view it.
If your profile is public, all your posts are open to anyone who comes to your page. Depending on the platform, your posts are even searchable. Someone you may have never met might happen upon what you posted at 3 am after a rough night.
If you set your profile to private, only connections can see your posts. That said, do you know all of your connections or do you blindly hit “accept friend request” from anyone and everyone? If so, your private profile isn’t very private.
On top of that, do you have your coworkers and supervisors as online connections? Is everything that you post something you want your boss to see?
Intent and Interpretation ARE NOT the Same
Before you hit “submit,” ask yourself, “could someone take my post out of context in a way that may jeopardize my professionalism/character or ethics?”
In this day and age, posts regarding political standpoints, religion, sexual orientation, or race may be a cause for concern. Even if you didn’t mean harm, a hastily posted comment could be interpreted in a way you didn’t intend and cause undue damage, not only for yourself but also for those reading it (including a potential patient you may be caring for). Post wisely!
One, very important acronym: HIPAA
Are your posts even work-industry appropriate and legal?
You should never discuss patient information or even daily patient scenarios on any public forum. This includes pictures, videos, and any content that may breach confidentially and HIPAA violations. If you question it, it is probably not worth posting.
Even a quick selfie at the nurses’ station could be grounds for legal action. There has been more than one news story over the last few years of sensitive information accidentally getting captured in the background of a photo. Accidentally sharing confidential information is still a HIPAA violation.
Make sure to inspect every photo you plan on sharing to ensure that you didn’t happen to snap something sensitive.
Maintaining a professional and ethical demeanor in the social media realm is the best practice for healthcare workers. In recent years, because most people have at least one social media platform they use in their daily lives, institutions are beginning to incorporate social media policies into the onboarding process to clearly outline what they expect of their employees. Every staff member is considered a representative of their facility.
In the scholarly journal article, “Social Media and Health Care Professionals: Benefits, Risks, and Best Practices,” author C. Lee Ventola writes:
“A health care organization may also consider establishing policies that involve disciplinary actions in response to employees’ use of the Internet, cellphones, or tablets during working hours. The establishment of such policies could diminish many concerns regarding the online posting of pictures or other patient information that could violate federal or state privacy laws or could distract from patient care.3”
Even if the healthcare facility you work for doesn’t have these practices yet in place, that doesn’t mean you’re free to post whatever. Social media may be created to be fun and to share pictures, stories, triumphs, and so much more, but the same time, it is also a reflection of who we are and our values.
Keeping that in mind will go a long way to having a healthy, safe, online presence. Small changes such as switching settings to “private” is a best practice that not only keeps information secure but protects anyone who utilizes social media regularly from hackers or other potentially dangerous situations that occur on the web.
 We Are Social. (2019, January 30). Digital 2019: Global Internet Use Accelerates. Retrieved July 5, 2019, from https://wearesocial.com/blog/2019/01/digital-2019-global-internet-use-accelerates
 Balestra, NP, Esq, M. L. (2018, June 04). Social media missteps could put your nursing license at risk. Retrieved July 6, 2019, from https://www.americannursetoday.com/social-media-nursing-license-risk/
 Ventola C. L. (2014). Social media and health care professionals: benefits, risks, and best practices. P & T : a peer-reviewed journal for formulary management, 39(7), 491–520.