1. Walden, Pamela BSN, RN, CHPN, OCN

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Who hasn't heard of Facebook, LinkedIn, MySpace, and similar sites? Nearly all websites of interest to nursing have blogs, nurses use Twitter, and YouTube is a perennial favorite. We use these sites to stay in touch with each other and include each other in our busy lives. Social media such as Twitter and LinkedIn can be used to keep in touch with other professionals, join specific interest groups, and network for professional opportunities. We can even educate each other or the public via these sites, such as using YouTube to learn about a procedure or check out what an ED nurse really does. Learning new information and communicating with peers can keep us engaged in our profession, but even sharing this sort of information has pitfalls. No matter how harmless it seems, you can be held accountable for any information that you send out into the world. Postings on Facebook and similar sites have cost nurses their jobs, and could potentially cost the respect of the public in the long run.


Social media is full of examples of how smart people can do and share unwise things. As reported in the Los Angeles Times, in a California ED photos of an elderly trauma patient's wounds were taken and posted on Facebook by staff.1 This story went viral and has been a topic of conversation since last year. There are other widespread stories involving photos of a patient's X-rays, descriptions of injuries, and personal histories. What were the staff members thinking when they shared this information?

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In various blog postings and discussions, many nurses have commented that if there are no identifying elements in a post, then it's okay to post about patients. However, violators of private patient information are being prosecuted in increasing numbers and as headlines continue to illuminate this problem, employers and law enforcement will continue to respond to protect patients.


Another pitfall of social media may occur from venting about your boss, your job, or your coworkers. It's only natural to criticize one's boss or gripe about your coworkers, but is a few moments of venting worth the risk of having your boss read what you wrote? Employers can become aware of your comments just like anyone else, and stories of firings due to comments tweeted and posted are becoming more common.


So how do you reap the benefits of social media while avoiding these pitfalls?


* Keep your personal and professional lives separate. Consider two separate sites.


* Be careful about posting personal data.


* It's never okay to share any information about patients. Don't do it and don't allow others to do it.


* Be certain that any photos you share don't have patients or patient information in them.


* Don't seek or allow personal relationships with patients.


* Be careful what you share about others.


* Don't discuss coworkers or employers in your comments.


* Vent your frustrations about your job in private.



These online tools help us instantly network with each other and form communities that function to make our lives richer. By following a few simple rules and using a little common sense, you can avoid pitfalls.




1. Hennessy-Fiske M. When Facebook goes to the hospital, patients may suffer. Los Angeles Times. August 8, 2010. [Context Link]