UK Nurses and Social Media Usage – Publishing a Post with Professional Care and Caution
Following the stepping down from Royal duties by the Duke and Duchess of Sussex due to exposure of their lives in part on social media, and the sad suicide of Caroline Flack – said to be due to the impact of social media, it is a good time to remind all nurses and midwives of the importance of being social media aware and how this could impact on practice and registration with the Nursing and Midwifery Council.
The NMC states: ‘use all forms of spoken, written and digital communication (including social media and networking sites) responsibly, respecting the right to privacy of others at all times.’ (NMC 2015)
Nurses and midwives occupy a position of trust in society. Being responsible when using social media is important. It is not just errors in clinical practice that can impact on a healthcare professional’s fitness to practise, it is activities outside the course of practice that may have an impact on the profession. Activities outside clinical practice can be just as damaging to the maintenance of high standards and reputation of the profession as any clinical misconduct, resulting in impairment and possibly the loss of registration with the Nursing and Midwifery Council.
The case of Remedy v GMC  EWHC 1245 (Admin) states: ‘Misconduct is of two principal kinds. First, it may involve sufficiently serious misconduct in the exercise of professional practice such that it can properly be described as misconduct going to fitness to practise. Second, it can involve conduct of a morally culpable or otherwise disgraceful kind which may, and often will, occur outwith the course of professional practice itself, but which brings disgrace upon the [doctor] and thereby prejudices the reputation of the profession.’
Therefore, nurses and midwives must be aware of the pitfalls of social media, be familiar with the settings and set any applications to the highest privacy settings. Remember, once a post or picture is out there, it can be shared, liked, copied and go viral very quickly. It is then very difficult to undo what has been done.
Nurses and midwives must be mindful of the importance of complying with their Code when communicating on social media.
‘You uphold the reputation of your profession at all times. You should display a personal commitment to the standards of practice and behaviour set out in the Code. You should be a model of integrity and leadership for others to aspire to. This should lead to trust and confidence in the profession from patients, people receiving care, other healthcare professionals and the public.’ (NMC 2015)
‘When joining our register, and then renewing their registration, nurses and midwives commit to upholding these standards. This commitment to professional standards is fundamental to being part of a profession. We can take action if registered nurses or midwives fail to uphold the Code. In serious cases, this can include removing them from the register.’ (NMC 2015)
‘As a nurse or midwife, you owe a duty of confidentiality to all those who are receiving care.’
‘[C]ooperate with the media only when it is appropriate to do so, and then always protecting the confidentiality and dignity of people receiving treatment or care.’ (NNMC 2015)
Always be careful. Never identify patients in your care outside the clinical setting. Never identify colleagues or yourself as healthcare professionals outside the clinical environment unless it is necessary.
If work is discussed on social media remember the patient’s right to privacy and confidentiality.
Never take videos, photographs or audio recordings of patients, colleagues or even the environment as they can be retained on your phone or on a cloud. A belief that nobody can be identified may be misplaced.
‘[M]ake sure you do not express your personal beliefs (including political, religious or
moral beliefs) to people in an inappropriate way’ (NMC 2015).
Remember that such information can be disseminated very quickly on social media. Be careful to always be respectful. Never use poor, inflammatory, insulting or crude language. Remember, employers can use social media to gain information about you and how you conduct yourself. Always act in a professional manner.
Maintain professional boundaries[S]tay objective and have clear professional boundaries at all times with people in your care (including those who have been in your care in the past), their families and carers’ (NMC 2015).
Do not use social media to make contact with patients or people connected to them. It is important to maintain professional boundaries and in particular, not to encourage or pursue relationships with patients or their families.
Encourage patient safety.
Do ‘not obstruct, intimidate, victimise or in any way hinder a colleague, member of staff, person you care for or member of the public who wants to raise a concern’ (NMC 2015)
Do not use social media to harass, victimise or influence somebody on social media. ‘Trolling’ can have devasting effects. Never discourage anybody from reporting concerns on social media.
If involved in a concern, always communicate with the NMC, employers or colleagues in an appropriate way. Remember, your communications may be recorded on emails or social media.
Practise within your area of competence
‘[M]ake sure that any advertisements, publications or published material you produce or have produced for your professional services are accurate, responsible, ethical, do not mislead or exploit vulnerabilities and accurately reflect your relevant skills, experience and qualifications.’ (NMC 2015)
Do not post any information on social media that could be incorrect or misleading and is outside your level of competence.
In this climate of social media, it is important to remember the disadvantages (as well as the advantages) of being present on social media. A referral to the NMC may result from not remembering these simple reminders with potentially devastating effects.
Think before you post on social media.