From Instagram to TikTok, social media gives us a way to share glimpses of our personal and professional lives with the rest of the world. Similar to other people-centered careers, social media and nursing are inextricably linked in today’s care environments.
But when it comes to nurses and social media, where do you draw the line on what you should (and shouldn’t) share in your posts?
As a nurse, the ethics of social media use may feel blurry from time to time. This guide is here to help. In it, we’re exploring social media in nursing and reviewing best practices so that you know exactly how to post responsibly.
How Does Social Media Affect Nursing?
Social media is pervasive and unavoidable for most adults. A staggering 90% of adults in the US use at least one social media platform—so how could social media not impact our professional lives?
If you’re a nurse on social media, you’ve likely seen a wide variety of content about our profession, like:
- Patient stories
- Career advice
- Skills videos
- Opinion pieces
- Ethical considerations
Social media offers people a way to connect with their communities—and nurses are no exception. Whether we’re using it to share or absorb professional information (instructional videos, for instance) or vent about a tough day, nurses are widely active on social media.
Why Should Nurses Be Careful on Social Media?
People pursuing any career should use discretion on social media. One ubiquitous piece of advice is: Don’t post anything you wouldn’t want your boss, your co-workers, or your clients to see.
But as nurses, we need to be especially cautious on social media for one major reason: patient confidentiality. Laws like HIPAA protect patients in both healthcare settings and online, but nurses also have an ethical responsibility to safeguard their patients’ privacy.
What Are the Pros and Cons of Using Social Media in Nursing?
Social media can certainly benefit the nursing community:
- Information on social media is widely accessible—including educational content or professional tips.
- Social media offers excellent networking opportunities. Talking with other nurses on social media is one way to build professional relationships outside of your unit.
- Sharing career stories (positive and negative) on social media can help nurses process tough situations and attract like-minded people to the profession.
But there are certainly some potential drawbacks of social media in nursing:
- Social media gives people easier access to each other—meaning that it’s easier for nurses and patients to violate professional boundaries.
- Posting about nursing without caution and care could violate patients’ privacy. This has both legal and ethical ramifications.
How Should Nurses Use Social Media Ethically?
While it’s completely fine for nurses to have their own personal social media accounts, there are definitely practices to consider related to social media and nursing ethics:
- Never post photos or information about a patient – Sharing patient information violates HIPAA’s Privacy Rule (unless the patient has signed an authorization to disclose their information). As an example, let’s say you received a dozen donuts from a recent patient. On top of the box, there’s a handwritten thank you note attached. While you can post a picture of the donuts to social media, you’ll want to avoid posting the note if it includes the patient’s name or anything specific about their treatment plan.
- Remain up-to-date on your employer’s social media policies – Many healthcare facilities have published policies about nursing and social media. Each time you start a new travel nurse assignment, take time to review the specific policies your facility has in place regarding nursing and social media use, patient confidentiality, and professional behavior.
- Keep information general – If you decide to share a picture of your thank you donuts on social media, try using general language when writing a caption for the post. For example, you could say that a patient brought in these delicious treats as a thank you for everything you did for them. In contrast, explaining what you did for them specifically and how their condition has improved is too specific and could violate HIPAA’s Privacy Rule. To protect your nursing license, you should always follow HIPAA regulations.
Social Media and Nursing Best Practices
Aside from ethics, there are additional best practices we recommend following as a nurse to ensure your social media use is professional and respectful.
- Utilize the privacy settings on your accounts – If you don’t take advantage of the available privacy settings, anyone can see your information—whether you intended them to or not. To keep your information private, adjust your settings so that only trusted people are allowed to view your content.
- Respectfully engage in posts – In the context of social media and nurses, it’s essential to engage in others’ posts thoughtfully and respectfully. If you have an opinion on someone else’s comments or want to add your opinion to a healthcare-related topic, remember that you’re posting publicly. Your words can easily be shared with others, so be mindful when formulating your responses.
- Monitor the comments on your posts – Every once in a while, an inappropriate or offensive comment could sneak its way onto one of your social media posts. By checking your comments regularly, you can quickly remove any inappropriate remarks and encourage respectful dialogue instead.
How Should Nurses Encourage Healthy Boundaries with Patients Using Social Media?
There’s nothing patients appreciate more than an empathetic nurse. Your warmth and friendly disposition can make a huge difference in their overall well-being. However, sometimes, your caring demeanor can be misconstrued as more than you simply doing your job.
To maintain an appropriate level of conduct in your patient-nurse relationships, it’s best not to communicate with patients outside of providing patient care.
Of course, the concept of ethical boundaries goes both ways. Patients are also expected to adhere to similar guidelines. They shouldn’t post photographs of their healthcare workers or share their nurses’ personal information outside of the facility.
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“Social Media Users – Global Demographics (2023).” DemandSage, 12 September 2023, https://www.demandsage.com/social-media-users/. Accessed 26 October 2023.
“Privacy and Confidentiality.” American Nurses Association, June 2015, https://www.nursingworld.org/practice-policy/nursing-excellence/official-position-statements/id/privacy-and-confidentiality/. Accessed 26 October 2023.
“Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act.” Florida Department of Health, www.floridahealth.gov/about/patient-rights-and-safety/hipaa/index.html. Accessed 26 October 2023.