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Medical Privacy and Social Media

Medical Privacy and Social Media

Home care is a unique industry, and staff must keep a balance between professional and personal communication in the workplace.   With the ever-changing landscape of social media, the balance can get tricky.  At Communities of Care, we are committed to providing professional communication training  and professional boundaries training to our staff to protect our clients and nurses privacy.

Under the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act (HIPAA) of 1996, access to confidential health records is heavily guarded, and acknowledging a nurse/client relationship is part of that.  Nurses need to handle their social media delicately in order to avoid a HIPAA violation.  Nurses are discouraged from befriending clients on social media or posting about them at the risk of exposing confidential health information and violating federal regulations.

Social media is an integral part of our modern world, and it’s easy to unknowingly overshare. This article from Accountable HQ shows some of the easy mishaps caregivers can make and how to avoid them.  This is a helpful list of activities on social media that they discourage:

  • “To be safe, don’t talk about patients in any way via social media.
  • Don’t share any workplace related frustrations online.
  • Refrain from discussing patients even in a general way via social media direct messages
  • Monitor the comment section and delete anything that could elicit a compromising response.”

The rules around Protected Health Information (PHI) are strict and the cost of noncompliance is high.

The biggest pitfall is discussing patient information in even an informal way.  The Hospitalist  shares a few examples of this informal sharing that can lead to major consequences, including getting fired and losing hospital staff privileges.  This is one of their examples:  “An ED physician in Rhode Island was fired, lost her hospital medical staff privileges, and was reprimanded by the Rhode Island Board of Medical Licensure and Discipline for posting information about a trauma patient on her personal Facebook page. According to the Rhode Island Board of Medical Licensure and Discipline, ‘[She] did not use patient names and had no intention to reveal any confidential patient information. However, because of the nature of one person’s injury … the patient was identified by unauthorized third parties. As soon as it was brought to [her] attention that this had occurred, [she] deleted her Facebook account.’ Despite the physician leaving out all information she thought might make the patient identifiable, she apparently did not omit enough.”

The biggest DON’T is to avoid sharing any client information, even in a general sense, as it can identify the client and break confidentiality rules.  We know social media can be tricky, but we are grateful to use it as a tool, and we are mindful of protecting our nurses and clients!

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