Social media is probably the most powerful and widely used communication tool in the world today. We use it to contact friends, find out what’s happening in the news, watch videos and post quirky images of our pets. For nurses, sites like Facebook, LinkedIn and Twitter are great for keeping up to date with the latest developments in the healthcare sector and for networking with other nurses or taking advantage of various support organisations. One of the problems with social media, however, is that a word or two out of place can quickly go viral. What might seem like an innocent post can, in actual fact, be something that contravenes the nursing code.
While we all need to engage with it responsibly, for any nurse, social media can be potentially dangerous. That’s why the Nursing and Midwifery Council have come up with guidance to help nurses navigate the pitfalls of posting online to their friends, family and other work colleagues.
What is the Code of Nurse Social Media Usage?
If you are thought to be acting in an unprofessional or even unlawful manner, it can affect your registration with the NMC. Where social media is involved, this can include:
- The sharing of confidential information about a patient, either intentionally or through negligence
- Posting comments about individuals, including patients, that is inappropriate
- Posting images of patients or people receiving care without their permission
- Pursuing inappropriate relationships with patients online
The NMC already has a code of conduct and the new guidance on social media falls in line with this. Paragraph 5 of the code, for example, clearly states: “As a nurse or midwife, you owe a duty of confidentiality to all those who are receiving care.” That, of course, includes what is transmitted over social media.
How Social Media Can Be Dangerous for Nurses
Sharing confidential information online may be problematic mainly because you can’t always be sure who is reading it. Let’s say that you wanted advice on how to deal with a particular patient – normally you would talk to another nurse or a doctor, all in confidence. If you ask that same question or have a discussion online, however, you are risking that information being seen by your entire following.
Communicating on social media goes beyond the simple confidentiality of the patient. Nurses, according to the code, should always practise in line with the best evidence. They should not be giving advice on medical matters on social media if it falls outside their competency, even if they are simply trying to help a friend.
Should a patient follow you on Facebook, for example, you may also be contravening the NMC code of conduct, even if it’s perfectly innocent. You have a duty to act professionally and building a relationship on social media can mean that this line becomes blurred.
Nurses have a responsibility to protect and respect the patients under their care but they also have a duty to guard their own professional reputation. The NMC suggests that all nurses should ensure they can competently use any social media platform and understand how it works. You should think carefully before you post anything and consider how it may affect your professional standing and whether it goes against the NMC code. Finally, you should also be careful about who you associate with on social media and realise this could be detrimental to your career.
While it is undoubtedly a very useful tool and a great way to communicate, make sure you are diligent and responsible when using social media. You can read the guidance from the NMC here.
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