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Nurses: What Not to Post on Social Media

Social media is becoming an increasingly larger, sometimes unavoidable, part of our lives. Whether we’re sharing personal news on Facebook, thoughts on Twitter, photos on Instagram or exploring newer applications like Snapchat and Whatsapp, social media has allowed us to connect with each other like never before.

HIPPA & Social Media

While that ability to connect with others instantly, no matter where they are, can be a good thing, it’s not without its dangers. Nurses and other healthcare professionals need to be aware of how the HIPAA law extends to social media (in addition to the usual concerns people should have about their public social media profiles).

Created in 1996, the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act (HIPAA) gave patients greater rights over their health information and limited who could see the information. Healthcare providers are not allowed to release information about patients, and this can extend to even an inadvertent mention on social media.

Violating HIPAA laws through social media, or otherwise compromising the reputation of a hospital or healthcare provider with a misguided photo of or post about a patient, can result in termination — and in some cases, it already has. HIPAA violations also can result in some sizable civil and criminal penalties.

Tips to Keep in Mind

Brittney Wilson, RN, a nationally-known writer and speaker whose blog The Nerdy Nurse often deals with social media issues for nurses, lists 18 different “off limits” patient identifiers. Some are obvious, like names and photos, but some, like ages and dates of hospital stays, can also be enough to inadvertently uncover someone’s identity.

Wilson, though she does advocate for nurses using social media, cautions nurses to do it in a principled way. In a article, she has a list of don’ts that include never mentioning patients or identifiable coworkers, not identifying your employer on your social media profiles, and not posting anything you might think twice about saying in front of your boss or human resources. Above all else, she counsels nurses to “uplift the nursing profession.”

A good rule of thumb is to pretend that you’re on the job market as you’re managing your social media profile. Even if you think you’re in the perfect job now, you never know when an enticing new opportunity might arise or when you might encounter unforeseen developments at your current job.

When you’re looking for a job, of course, you should assume — and rightly so — that an employer will be checking your online presence to get a sense of who you are as a nurse and as a person. A CareerBuilder release from 2017 held that 70 percent of employers now go online and search job candidates before hiring, up from a mere 11 percent in 2006.

That means, of course, making sure that what you mean to be private stays private — and what might be misconstrued probably shouldn’t go up in the first place. Just because a Facebook post is shielded from public view doesn’t mean it won’t circulate. If someone posts what’s perceived to be a questionable photo to a group, a member of that group can take a screenshot of that photo — including identification of the author — and share it with whomever they choose, even after it’s been deleted.

Ultimately, Wilson’s advice to “uplift the nursing profession” is excellent, timely advice that will be relevant as long as social media continues to be such a large part of our lives.

Learn more about the A-State online RN to BSN program.


The Nerdy Nurse: 18 Patient Identifiers HIPAA Defines as Off Limits Must-Read Social Media Advice for Nurses

CareerBuilder: Number of Employers Using Social Media to Screen Candidates at All-Time High

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