Nurses could risk their registration if they act in an unprofessional or unlawful way online, new guidance on the use of social media has warned.
Sharing confidential information inappropriately online, posting pictures of patients and people receiving care without their consent, and intimidating others on social media sites are among the actions that could jeopardise registration, according to the Nursing and Midwifery Council.
“You have a responsibility to ensure that any information or advice that you provide via social media is evidence-based”
NMC guidance on social media
Nurses and midwives should also avoid making “general” comments online about practice and should not discuss any issues that fall outside their level of competence, states the document - called Guidance on using social media responsibly.
“As a nurse or midwife, you have a responsibility to ensure that any information or advice that you provide via social media is evidence-based and correct to the best of your knowledge,” it notes.
Social media should also not be used to prevent or discourage someone from raising their concerns, it adds.
The document marks the first time the NMC has released official guidance on the use of social media, having previously only issued an advice sheet.
“Nurses and midwives should not use social networks to build or pursue relationships with patients”
NMC guidance on social media
It underpins the NMC’s recently updated code of conduct - which came into effect on 31 March and makes only one reference to social media, saying that “all forms of spoken, written and digital communication” should be used “responsibly”.
The guidance points out that social media sites can offer several benefits for registrants and students, such as building professional relationships, creating discussions around research and clinical experiences and providing access to learning resources.
However, it warns that issues around areas such as confidentiality, relationships with patients and service users, and professional reputation can occur.
The NMC states that “nurses and midwives should not use social networks to build or pursue relationships with patients and service users as this can blur important professional boundaries”.
It warns that even if this rule is abided by, patients or service users on social media might still be able to access registrants’ information that is posted online.
The guidance also highlights that even though anonymous information shared via social media may not directly breach a patient’s right to confidentiality, the person may still be identifiable, which could risk registration.
It also points out that acknowledging someone else’s post could imply a nurse supports that point of view.
Meanwhile, as a result of the new code of conduct coming into effect, the regulator has removed some of its other existing guidance documents – those on record keeping, the care of older people, and professional conduct for nursing and midwifery students.
Recent papers from an NMC council meeting state that “a broad consensus had emerged that the code should be a comprehensive document and that the numbers of supporting guidance documents should be relatively small”.
The papers noted that, in particular, guidance on the care of older people was six years old and “consequently no longer reflects a contemporary evidence base”.
The council said the code had instead been strengthened to include these issues, but would look at whether revised guidance on the care of older people should be published in the future.