The consequences regarding a nurse’s improper or inappropriate use of social media platforms come with varying levels of discipline – all of which are dependent upon the action in question, workplace regulations, and any social media policies already in effect.
For example, not only can a medical facility take action against a nurse who has violated a patient’s privacy, but also the state board of nursing. State laws can additionally come into play, and it is not uncommon for legal and criminal investigations to take place when a nurse crosses the line.
Disciplinary actions that individuals can face include:
- required sensitivity training
- expulsion from nursing school
- being fired from a job
- loss of licensure
- criminal charges
- jail time
The most serious offenses often involve law enforcement, with some cases being referred to the FBI for investigation of HIPAA violations, as seen in the firing of two nurses who photographed and posted the pictures on the Internet of a patient that underwent an X-ray procedure for rather sensitive, easily identifiable circumstances. Incidents of a sexual nature, such as exposing the image of a patient’s buttocks online, can also involve the Sex Crimes unit of the local police department.
Nurses who abuse social media (as well as digital and electronic media while on the job, such as taking cell phone pictures of patients) also cause their employer to come under scrutiny and suffer consequences, such as the admissions ban imposed on nursing home Kitsap Health & Rehabilitation Center for employing workers that took nude photographs on their cell phones of dementia patients. The incident led to an investigation of the facility, and the threat of being cut from the Medicare/Medicaid program, which provides vital reimbursements of funds for the services they offer.
In conclusion, social media policies for nurses will continue to evolve in order to keep in line with advancements in technology and the Internet. The key to successfully navigating the ups and downs that come with having an online presence and identity is to find a happy, safe, and responsible middle between enjoying the personal and professional benefits of social media without breaking the rules of patient privacy and confidentiality.
In addition to being mindful of the importance regarding the disclosure of patient- and workplace-related information via social media…keeping up with workplace policies, relevant state and federal laws, and professional standards as they apply to the nursing profession are just as significant.