An ER nurse has a rough day at work. When she gets home she vents on Facebook about her exhausting shift, about the drug addict that staggered in, about the drunk that urinated on himself in the waiting area, and how irritable each of her patients were that day.
Harmless, right? She didn't mention any names. Didn't post any pictures. And yet, a 'friend' of the nurse who was angry at her, decided to file a complaint with her state board of nursing alleging "unprofessional conduct."
Though this is a hypothetical situation, the end result is fairly common. If the nurse does not have her own professional liability insurance, she may not be able to afford a lawyer. And though she probably does not feel she did anything wrong, she could end up plea bargaining with the board and taking a year of probation. Probation appears on your record and can have adverse effects when you apply for a job.
What to Avoid When Posting
Many of us use social media daily to share our lives with friends, colleagues and family. Unfortunately, there are associated risks, particularly for nurses, who are held to a high standard by their state boards. Two areas of risk include:
Examples include posting photos or comments about alcohol or drug use; profane, sexually explicit, or racially derogatory comments; negative comments about co-workers, and employers; or threatening or harassing comments.
Patient privacy and/or confidentiality
Breaches of patient privacy/confidentially can be intentional or inadvertent, with inappropriate postings including patient photos, negative comments about patients, or details that might identify patients.
A Simple Tweet or Text can Result in a Licensing Complaint
Violations of the above risks can result in a complaint being filed against your license with your state board of nursing. Complaints can be filed by virtually anyone, including friends, family, patients, patients' family members, your employer, even your own spouse.
Licensing complaints are more common than you think. There are almost 30 times more licensing complaints filed against nurses than malpractice lawsuits. Between 2010 and 2014, there were 3,357 malpractice suits filed against nurses and 96,659 licensing complaints.*
Disciplinary actions by your state board can involve; no action, a simple reprimand, fine, continuing education, probation, suspension or permanent loss of licensure.
Simple Do's and Don'ts When Posting, Tweeting, Texting or Blogging
By using caution, nurses can enjoy the benefits of social media without risking the loss of their license and their livelihood.
The following tips can help keep your social media content in the clear
Always maintain patient privacy and confidentiality.
Do not post patient photos or videos of patients or identify patients by name.
Do not refer to patients in a disparaging manner, even if patients are not identified.
Use caution when connecting with patients or former patients via social media.
Do not post inappropriate photos, negative comments about colleagues or employers.
Never discuss drug and alcohol use.
Use social media to post positive comments about your workplace and its staff.
Share educational information that may benefit others, such as safety notices and medical news.
It is permissible to refer doctors, specialists and healthcare practices.
Use social media to enhance the role of nursing in the community, among friends and the public.
Remember posting, tweeting, texting and blogging are not private communications and can be used against you in an investigation by your Board of Nursing
Social media is great way to connect with family and friends, but you need to be cautious. If a complaint is filed against your license for whatever reason, your state board of nursing will conduct its own investigation. That could include looking to see if you have a presence on social media. You might be investigated for one reason, and have your situation made worse by comments you made on Facebook, Twitter or in text message.
Nursing professionals need to be aware that online postings are permanent and can negatively affect their license and ability to practice. Think twice before you post content that could be judged as "unprofessional."
About the Author
Melanie Balestra, NP, Esq., owns her own law practice, the Law Offices of Melanie L. Balestra in Irvine, Calif. She also works as a pediatric nurse practitioner at the Laguna Beach Community Clinic in Laguna Beach, Calif. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
*National Practitioner Data Bank, Department of Health & Human Services, www.npdb.hrsa.gov, October 2016.