nursing and social media

Navigating the Boundaries of Posting on Social Media as a Nurse

Today, more people are using social media than ever before. From the witticisms of Twitter to the feel-good photos of Instagram and Facebook, professionals across all industries are using these platforms to connect with friends and colleagues as they grow their online followings. Social media can be a great way to meet new people, make powerful connections, and share your experiences with the world.

But you need to understand the boundaries of posting on social media as a nurse. The government has strict laws in place that protect a patient’s right to privacy. If you violate a patient’s rights by uploading sensitive information to social media, the consequences could be dire. Learn more about what the nation’s patient privacy laws mean for social media.

Understanding a Patient’s Right to Privacy

Under the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act (HIPAA), patients have more control over their healthcare information than in years past, giving them the power to set boundaries on the release and use of their health records. Releasing private health information to the public without the patient’s permission can have a negative effect on the patient’s life. It may inhibit their ability to hold down a job, change their social standing, or have an affect on their social relationships.

As a healthcare provider, posting a photo of a patient on social media essentially violates the terms of the HIPPA Privacy Rule. Even if you don’t share the details of a patient’s chart, you would still be releasing sensitive information about a patient’s healthcare experience. A patient may even tell you that it’s okay to post a photo or selfie of them on social media, but this verbal contract may not be enough to insulate you from certain penalties.

Social media represents a global network where anyone can log on and access a person’s photos. Even if you use the privacy setting on Facebook or Instagram, you never know who may be looking at your photos.

Penalties for Violating a Patient’s Right to Privacy

HIPAA stipulates that those who violate a patient’s right to privacy will be met with civil and even criminal penalties. HIPAA violations fall under four categories:

Tier 1: The employee was unaware of the HIPAA violation at the time of the offense, and with some due diligence would not have known HIPAA rules were violated, which results in $100 to $50,000 fine per violation.

Tier 2: Reasonable cause to believe the employee knew or should have known they were in violation of HIPAA at the time of the offense which results in $1,000 to $50,000 fine per violation.

Tier 3: The employee willfully neglected HIPAA Rules and corrected the offense within 30 days of discovery, which results in $10,00 to $50,000 fine per violation.

Tier 4: Willful neglect of HIPAA Rules and no effort made to correct the offense within 30 days of discovery, which results in $50,000 fine per violation.

Additionally, some staff members may be fired on the spot or face a costly civil lawsuit as a result of their actions. A photo posted to Facebook of a dying patient resulted in four staff members being fired from a hospital in California.

Using Social Media Responsibly

If you’re adamant of using social media, you’re better off leaving your patients out of your photos and posts. Focus on your own experiences without mentioning specific patients or your experiences on the floor. Remember, what happens at work, stays at work.

If you pose for a photo that’s uploaded to another healthcare provider’s social media account, you could be penalized for engaging in unlawful conduct. Use caution when participating on social media and talk to your supervisor if you have any questions.