Social media nurses’ challenge

Social media has its own special challenges for people working in the medical field, an annual nurses conference heard last week. 

Keynote speaker Dr. Audrey Gittens-Gilkes, the chief nursing officer in St. Vincent and the Grenadines, described how using social media on mobile devices at work can distract medical staff and also pose a threat to the confidentiality of patients in some instances. 

In using social media, medical staff need to be careful that they are not compromising the privacy of patients or violating confidentiality policies, she said, adding that some patients may reject the use of social media as a means of communicating about their health because of concerns over confidentiality. 

Dr. Gittens-Gilkes gave an example of a nurse who posted information about a patient on Facebook. Although the nurse did not name the patient, she did say which hospital she worked in and on which unit – sufficient information for someone to identify the patient about whom she was talking. 

Such violations can lead to not just the invasion of privacy of a patient, but can leave a medical institution for whom the medical staff member works open to legal liability. 

“Next time you think about posting something on patient care on a social media site, ask yourself, would it be appropriate to appear on the front page of a newspaper, as well as your identification as the one who posted the comment? If the answer is no, it would not be appropriate on the front page, do not post it on social media,” said Dr. Gittens-Gilkes. 

She added: “Patients will be hesitant to divulge information if they perceive that it will be disseminated and used for purposes other than the purpose for which it was shared.” 

Medical staff working with patients can potentially also breach privacy and confidentiality by posting supportive and seemingly innocuous comments on patients’ own blogs, Dr. Gittens-Gilkes pointed out, and she played a number of videos for the nurses at the conference showing some of the pitfalls involved with nurses and doctors using social media. 

She also highlighted the peril of mobile devices and social media distracting staff, citing a case she had witnessed in St. Vincent involving a nurse who was supposed to be giving a patient a bath. “Behind the curtain, she was on social media by phone while the patient was left naked and uncovered on the bed. Her excuse was the message could have been urgent and she could not wait to check it,” she said. 

“This issue has not been widely researched, however existing evidence suggests that patients’ care is being compromised by social media. There are reports of medication errors by both doctors and nurses,” Dr. Gittens-Gilkes added. 

However, social media also has its up side in the medical field, with patients using the Internet to glean information about their conditions and treatments and to join support groups with people who are suffering from the same condition or who can share information with them. Dr. Gittens-Gilkes said social media can be embraced as a means by which medical professionals can better communicate with patients, helping to manage follow-up care and to help combat obesity and non-communicable diseases. 

“Computer literate patients are seeking to take more control of their health by using the Internet to find out information relating to illnesses and treatment,” said Dr. Gittens-Gilkes. 

She added that while e-health should not replace traditional methods of healthcare delivery, it is a useful tool by which nurses and other medical professionals can communicate with patients. 

Dr. Gitten-Gilkes was speaking at the Cayman Islands Nursing Association eighth annual nursing conference held at the Marriott Beach Resort last week, as part of the activities surrounding Nurses Week 2013. This year’s conference theme as “Embracing Diversity in Nursing Care: Achieving Successful Patient Outcomes”.  

As part of her presentation, she also described how social media both allowed for people of similar cultural backgrounds to communicate with their peers, but also helped people outside of those cultural backgrounds to understand better and communicate with people of diverse backgrounds. 

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