April 2019

Should you accept a patient’s friend request on social media?

Social media use has moved far beyond being just a way to communicate with your friends. It’s now used regularly in most professional settings, including health care. As a result, nurses are facing increased requests from patients to connect on not only professional social media accounts, but on their personal ones as well. So, while trying to balance privacy and boundary requirements, how do you know what social media activity is acceptable and what’s not?

The answer is actually straightforward.

Never accept a patient’s friend request on your personal social media accounts

A nurse should not enter into a friendship or other personal relationship with a patient, their family members or their substitute decision-makers. Always keep your personal and professional lives separate.

By connecting on or corresponding over your personal social media account, you are crossing the boundary where the professional therapeutic nurse-client relationship changes to unprofessional and personal.

Use a professional account separate from your personal one if needed

Many health care organizations or nurses in independent practice have professional social media accounts. They use these accounts to build professional connections, educate the public, and communicate with members of the public, including patients or patients’ family members.

When using a professional social media account, you must ensure you are not violating patient privacy and confidentiality, or crossing the therapeutic nurse-client boundary. Understand what is needed for a patient and their family to consent to their image or information being used on a professional social media account. Leaving out a patient’s details when you post information or images does not protect patient confidentiality.

Know and follow your employer’s policies

If you communicate with patients via a professional social media account, follow your employer’s policies on using social media, photography, computers and mobile devices.

More information

The Code of Conduct states that nurses are accountable for maintaining professional boundaries with patients and that nurses should not share personal patient information on social media.

In addition, the International Nurse Regulator Collaborative, a group of seven nursing regulators that includes CNO, has released a position statement on the use of social media by nurses. Read these recommendations to learn about respecting boundaries, acting professionally and maintaining patient privacy (as well as your own) while blogging, sharing photos or posting on social media.

Our social media webcast, Social Media: Reflect Before You Post, shows you how to use CNO practice standards and reflective questions to assess situations before engaging in any social media activity.

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