Obviously, given HIPAA regulations, it is entirely inappropriate to comment on the status of any specific patient you may encounter. Avoiding names is not enough. You must not share any information that could reasonably be used to identify a specific individual under your care. A patient’s right to privacy is serious business, which must be respected at all times. So-called personally identifiable information (PII) is defined as any data that could potentially identify a specific individual. Be warned.
But this blog is not intended to scare you or take the fun out of social media for nurses. As long as you understand and follow the ground rules regarding the protection of specific patients’ identities, you are free to use social media as you see fit (within your institution’s policy guidelines). Organizations such as the American Nurses Association have published general guidelines. Essentially, they boil down to this: Use social media responsibly.
What’s the Point?
In our private lives, most of us use social media for fun. We use it to share photos, observations, funny memes, etc. It is a form of entertainment for most people. But social media also has potential to serve a purpose in the professional arena. As it turns out, many medical professionals have harnessed this technology to provide a forum for discussion, sharing of information or new findings, updates on ongoing or emerging research, etc.
The potential for professional inquiry, education, collaboration and discussion is rich. Whether you discover and follow specific Twitter account holders, or join groups on Facebook or Instagram, you may discover that social media can be used to enrich and further your professional development. Of course, you can also use social media in the more traditional way: for entertainment. But keep those sharing policies in mind whenever you do. Obviously, once published, your words become more or less immortal in cyberspace. ‘Speak’ accordingly.
Before the internet, the old adage was that you should never commit to paper anything that you wouldn’t want your mother to read on the front page of the newspaper. The adage was intended to remind you that carelessly chosen words, once written down, have a habit of becoming more public that we ever imagined. This advice is all the more relevant in the present era of tweets, which are essentially eternal.
One way to identify accounts and threads that may pertain to your specific interests is to take advantage of the hashtag system. For example, if you are interested in learning more about complications related to breach birth, you would go to Twitter, type in #breachbirth, and see what comes up. Of course, this being the internet, you may have to wade through some inexplicably irrelevant junk before locating the kinds of relevant information you are seeking. But you get the idea. Social media has made it extremely simple to research specific topics and to find folks with interests and/or insights into your topic of interest.
The whole point of social media is to share, of course. This can apply to you, provided you work within your institution’s social media policy guidelines. If you find accounts or articles of special interest, feel free to share them with colleagues. You may even want to consider starting a closed group on Facebook for invited colleagues. It can be a convenient forum for sharing anecdotes, discussing best practices, sharing cautionary tales, etc. Just think carefully before you hit enter.