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When social media posts put your status at risk

Occasionally something happens at work that fills you with emotion. It makes you either sad, grateful or so full of pride that you can't wait to share it. Maybe it frustrates you or makes you so angry you just have to vent to the world. This kind of thing happens to most people, and this may be why you were stunned to learn that the Board of Nursing is investigating a post you made on social media.

More workplaces are tightening their policies regarding employee use of social media. In the medical field, however, the main concern is the privacy of patients. While some medical professionals go to the extreme and post pictures or statuses abusing or demeaning patients, many nurses face disciplinary actions because of innocent posts that unintentionally violated a patient's right to privacy and confidentiality.

A circle of trust

Patient confidentiality is a carefully guarded promise in the health care world. In your line of work, you probably recognize that many patients are reluctant to share details about their health or their lifestyles because they fear the repercussions if someone outside the health care circle finds out. When a nurse breaks that trust, he or she may damage the relationship with the patient. You and your colleagues safeguard the privacy and confidentiality of your patients in these ways:

  • You must protect the confidentiality of any patient's physical or mental health information from the past, present or future.
  • You may only divulge patient information to people on the patient's health care team as it pertains to the patient's care.
  • You may only disclose such information when the patient has given informed consent or when it would be detrimental to withhold the information.
  • You may not reveal confidential information to anyone outside the health care team if that information can lead others to identify the patient.

In all innocence, you may have posted a picture or information about a patient, perhaps sharing good news of recovery or as a way to inspire your social media friends. If someone saw the post and recognized the patient, you may be accused of breaching patient confidentiality laws, and your career may be in jeopardy.

The consequences of breaching confidentiality

The use of social media is universal and almost second nature. However, privacy issues abound when medical professionals use social media to expose or exploit their patients. If you are caught up in a situation involving posts you made on your Facebook, Instagram or other accounts, you certainly don't want to leave your future to chance.

A nurse who discloses private patient information on social media, even inadvertently, may face serious sanctions. You may be at risk of fines, job loss or termination of your nursing license. When you stand before the disciplinary board, you may feel more confident having an attorney by your side. A lawyer with substantial experience defending nurses against accusations in front of the Arizona Board of Nursing will work to protect your license and the career you cherish.

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