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Facebook: nursing friend or foe?


Do nursing and facebook mix? Accident waiting to happen or social networking miracle?

Facebook and I have had an on-off relationship. It started well, we had a bit of a break, then took up where we left off.

It regularly annoys me, but now that I use it in my job I’m starting to love it again. The first time that I posted a question on Nursing Times’ facebook page I wasn’t expecting much of a response, but the replies made my day. I have access to an immediate cache of responses, and not just responses of the “Becky … loves her lovely, lovely, loving boyfriend” ilk, but articulate and well thought out discussions. What better way to get to know your reader? Thanks, facebook.      

 At the RCN Congress 2011, delegates discussed where facebook and social media fit into nursing. Thoughts were divided. But those who warned of facebook’s dangers just seemed a bit out of date to me.

Sure, if you publish incriminating posts like “I hate all my patients, die, die, die!” your boss probably won’t take too kindly. But not going down that route is common sense, isn’t it?

The Nursing and Midwifery Council actually have their own section of code about the use of social media. They say:

  • “You must respect people’s right to confidentiality”
  • “You must cooperate with the media only when you can confidently protect the confidential information and dignity of those in your care”
  • “You must uphold the reputation of your profession at all times”

Sound OK to you? Maybe it needs a little more clarity. Are you allowed to upload team pictures, as long as patients aren’t lurking in the background? Should you never post a picture of yourself in uniform? Can you complain about what an awful day you’ve had on the ward? How does this translate in reality?

But this is all a bit doom and gloom. Social media isn’t just an accident waiting to happen, it has its good points too. As Dave Dawes said at the congress “social media is like sex, when it’s safe it’s brilliant”.

And I agree. I think where social media really excels is not sharing pictures of your weekend but creating a platform where you can communicate to like-minded people. There are more than 8,500 nurses on our Nursing Times facebook page and around 9,000 following @NursingTimes on twitter. And they’re regularly joining in on the conversation.

But can it go a step further? Should facebook portals be set up in hospitals so that patients can easily connect to their friends? Should student nurses be buddied up with more experienced mentors via twitter? Should nursing teams have their own facebook page to help boost team morale?  

I think everyone who owns a facebook page needs to be aware of the consequences of posting personal information. The danger is that social media has become so normal and accepted that people forget that things can go wrong. But as long as it’s safe, it’s brilliant.


Readers' comments (8)

  • Facebook can only ever be a danger to Nurses as long as the witch finder generals known as the NMC have carte blanche to interpret any information/ statement/ comment/ picture by you (no matter how innocent) in any way they wish and haul you in front of a kangaroo court to ruin your career and possibly your life.

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  • Adrian Bolt

    I quite agree Mike

    “You must uphold the reputation of your profession at all times”

    Can be interpreted in a number of ways. Does pointing out that a lot of what passes for nurse training these days does not amount to a whole hill of beans or that "Releasing time to care" the productive community team/ward is a complete and utter waste of everybody’s time constitute not upholding the reputation of the profession?

    Criticizing the one size fits all orthodoxy of current thinking within the nursing profession risks incurring the wrath of the NHS trust thought police and subsequent referral to the NMC kangaroo courts mentioned by Mike above.

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  • You are right Edwin, it is the fact that they are free to interpret the "You must uphold the reputation of your profession at all times” part of their malleus malificarum that is the primary problem. I think the NMC collectively watched Minority Report and thought it was a great idea!

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  • Adrian Bolt

    Thats odd how did I know you were about to say that?

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  • I think it's about time that nursing and the healthcare economy in general embraced social networking sites, obviously remembering the points made in the article. We all know how important effective communication is and how it often falls down. As an Infection Control Nurse for private contractors (GP surgeries, Dental Surgeries, Nursing Homes etc) I have a 'virtual team' of >100 Nurses in these locations and thinking of ways to communcate with, and engage, them is an ongoing task. I'm just in the process of setting up a Facebook page, to stay private for my Champions, so that we can communicate more easily, sharing questions and tips and hints etc, and (hopefully) build up more of a cohesive team spirit. Business journals are full of the virtues of IT communication and I think the healthcare community should catch up. I have no idea how successful my page will be, but it was suggested by one of my Dental Nurses so I'm rolling with it! The only problem is that many healthcare organisations still ban its use in work time but I'm hoping that won't hold it back....

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  • Facebook has been getting a lot of people into a lot of trouble; not just nurses. The police say that a lot of crimes occur because of facebook and the way people use, or should I say misuse it. In my own trust, nurses have got themselves into hot water over things they have posted. They don't realise that a lot of managers look at it to see what is going on. Being caught out on a fake 'sickie' is just one example when the person concerned has been out having fun when they were allegedly ill. How silly are they?!
    I do not have or want facebook, and do not respond to any requests to be a facebook friend. I just email the people I want to talk to instead.

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  • I wouldn't touch it with a barge pole. but wouldn't it be wiser for those who do to just use it for social purposes and not professional and be careful what information the put on it. as comment ,above to exchange more private information isn't e-mail just to one person at a time better and if it is very confidential a letter of a phone call might be the safest. i don't know really how facebook works not having used it, i just hear about all the negative problems with it although i am sure it must have success as well if used with commonsense.

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  • At Disney Land employees are trained to adhere to "on stage" and "off stage" behaviors. So if they wan to vent they go behind closed doors and within the public domain they remain impeccable.
    Thus the employee or in nursing - any nurse who wishes to expose personal views and lifestyle it is important to exclude any information linking them to nursing and in particular a hospital or other employer.
    Thus any patient information would not be considered appropriate to post.
    Nurses might want to join groups to post information so that people who are aware of appropriate content can monitor what it posted.
    The positive use of facebook for the public is that they can engage with health professionals and we don't have to find them - they find us!

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