Health Care Trends With a Social Media Twist
It is not a coincidence that two articles on nurses’ use of Facebook recently appeared on the same day, one in the UK and one in the US. The blurred boundaries of social media are becoming a hot topic, as nurses, employers and health regulators alike try to understand, and rule, on how social media should be used by health professionals.
Common sense seems to be the key as how nurses should use Facebook, but there are still a lot of grey areas that are open to interpretation.
The UK article, a blog post on industry publication Nursing Times, states that there are benefits of using Facebook for professional use – encouraging learning, discussions and sharing of industry information. The author, Nadine Woogara, refers to the social media guidelines set out by the Nursing and Midwifery Council (NMC), which are ambiguous and open to interpretation. The author asks – are we allowed to upload team pictures? Should we never post a picture of ourselves in uniform? Can you talk about your bad day working on the ward?
She goes on to ask another important question, this time focusing on the positive effects of Facebook – can nursing teams have their own Facebook page to help boost team morale? The comments that follow the article show the scepticism that nurses have towards the code set out by the NMC. It is evident that clearer guidelines are needed for nurses to understand the boundaries they are set, and also the boundaries put upon the NMC itself, so that all social media content is not open to full scrutiny and mis-interpretation.
The author makes another good point – that social media has become so normal and accepted that people forget that things can go wrong. This was seen recently in the US where four students were expelled from nursing school for posting photos of themselves with a placenta on Facebook (this is just plain stupid), and also that five nurses were fired for discussing patient cases on Facebook (this is just WRONG).
The US article, from NurseZone, recommends that physicians and nurses set their Facebook profile to the highest security settings, or create separate Facebook accounts for professional and personal use, to ensure privacy and to make a distinction between personal and professional life. My cousin who has recently become a dentist has done this – she has changed her Facebook name to prevent patients looking her up on Facebook, and has a medium security setting on her profile page. I would think that patients would still be able to find her on Facebook as her picture is up there for all to see – it will be interesting to see how her clinic addresses this in the future.
Unfortunately there are instances where nurses will use Facebook in an inoffensive way, but get targeted for the wrong reasons. During my time working in a Sydney hospital last year, sadly, the Nurse Unit Manager of the Emergency Department was killed. Some of the 3,000 staff from the hospital used Facebook to share their condolences, upset and disbelief at the sad situation. The media were able to search the mention of the nurse manager’s name and the hospital’s name on Facebook, to then target the nurses via private Facebook message, asking them inappropriate questions about the Nurse Manager and her death. These nurses mistakenly blamed the PR department for providing journalists with their contact information. We were able to trace the origin of the contact back to the Facebook pages of the nurses and subsequently urgently reminded all staff if they did not want to be contacted they must update their profile settings to ‘private’. No one was to blame here, just an unfortunate use and abuse of Facebook in a sensitive health environment. It could happen again, and this is why it is growing more important for there to be clear guidelines and a mutual understanding between all parties involved of how nurses, and physicians, use social media as professionals.