Social Media and Nurses: Promising or Perilous?

Laura A. Stokowski, RN, MS

Disclosures

November 17, 2011

In This Article

The Pre-Facebook Era

Once upon a time, newly licensed nurses entered the profession armed with a set of relatively simple rules. Watch what you say in the elevator, the cafeteria, and the nurse's station. Don't give patients your telephone number, offer them rides, or accept lavish gifts. Date a patient? Forget it. We protected medical information assiduously -- by refusing to let patients read their own charts. These were the kinds of precautions that for many years guided new nurses as they navigated the landscape of professional ethical behavior.

In 1996, the healthcare industry got a wake-up call when Congress enacted HIPAA, the Healthcare Information Portability and Accountability Act. Privacy became the new buzzword in healthcare. Respect for patient rights by safeguarding medical information was no longer just an ethical responsibility -- it was the law.

HIPAA was closely followed by an explosion in information technology that has been so swift, it has outstripped our ability to implement policies governing its use in the healthcare environment. As we learn how we can benefit from social networking and other social media in healthcare, we also learn, from the mistakes of early users, the harm that can come from improper use of these tools.

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