Be Mindful of HIPAA When Posting on Social Media
Written by Rose Torrento on Thursday, February 06, 2020 Posted in On the Job
Your favorite patient is leaving the hospital after a long bout with bacterial meningitis. You and a few other nurses throw him a little farewell party, giving him a few gifts and snapping a few pictures. You decide to put up a heartfelt post on social media explaining the whole situation … but the next day you’re in the admin office, facing a suspension from work. Why? You shared confidential patient information on social media, violating Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act (HIPAA) laws.
Social media and nursing can mix, if used with caution
In today’s digital world, almost everyone has one or more social media accounts. Social media can offer a lot of good things, like the opportunity to share information, connect with family and friends, and support people in their time of need. Nurses, in particular, have found many benefits in using social media, including the ability to discuss the healthcare industry. Social platforms and discussion forums provide nurses a virtual space to give advice, teach new things, and advocate for better patient care.
However, social media can also come with risks — namely privacy. This is one of the biggest problems nurses face when using social media to discuss professional matters. Even under the most restricted privacy settings, social media posts aren’t really private. Photos, videos, and text can quickly become public information without you even knowing — which is why it’s so important for nurses to be mindful of the things they share on social media regarding patients and their healthcare information. A misstep could mean a HIPAA violation and some very real consequences.
Violating patient privacy has real consequences
It may not seem like a big deal to share a post on Facebook or in a forum that contains a patient’s personal information. After all, only your close family and friends can see it, right? Wrong! Your post could be shared by others, copied and reposted, or circulated without your knowledge. Eventually, it might come back to the patient, their families, and/or your hospital.
Violating HIPAA can have disastrous consequences — not only for your patient, but also for you and your career. Nurses can be disciplined at work for a variety of social media HIPAA violations, ranging from suspensions to job termination. Depending on the violation, you may even face criminal charges.
A nurse in Houston was recently fired because she shared comments online about a young patient suffering from measles. Although she didn’t mention the patient by name, she shared enough information to potentially allow the boy to be identified, violating HIPAA. Many other nurses have experienced similar situations because they did not consider HIPAA before sharing patient health information online.
Reconsider your posts to avoid violating HIPAA
Having to follow HIPAA guidelines does not mean you can never post any information about your job online. It merely means that you need to be cautious about what you post and what your images or videos contain. For some nurses, not posting anything about their professional lives is simply easier.
The following tips can help you avoid HIPAA violations on social media:
- Don’t post any photos or videos of patients.
- Never mention patients by name.
- Don’t complain about patients online, even vaguely.
- Don’t post photos of healthcare facilities showing patients or any information.
- Avoid using detailed patient information that could allow them to be identified.
Beyond career consequences, violating HIPAA also means you’re neglecting your patient’s privacy and trust. By using these tips and staying vigilant about your posts, you’ll protect your patients and your nursing career.
About the Author
Rosemarie Torrento has worked in health care for more than 26 years, beginning as a registered nurse in 1988. Early in her nursing career, Torrento worked as a freelance contract nurse before accepting a position in nursing administration. During her 17-year tenure in that role, she oversaw nursing employment and travel nurse contracting at a Level 1 Trauma Hospital in Michigan. Understanding the challenges travel nurses faced, Torrento founded Health Providers Choice Inc. (HPC) in 2003. Through Torrento’s extensive experience and her role as President and CEO, HPC provides travel placement of registered nurses and allied health professionals to hospital systems nationally.