Social media is an integral part of how people communicate, and in healthcare, social media plays a growing role in patient and provider's lives. Apps can calculate a patient’s insulin levels, hospitals host Facebook pages, recruiters search for résumés on LinkedIn, patients discuss symptoms in online forums and healthcare organizations rely on Twitter during disaster relief.
Pamela Ressler, BSN, RN, HN-BC, believes all nurses can (and should) be a part of the online healthcare discussion. Ressler is an adjunct lecturer of public health and community medicine at Tufts University School of Medicine in Medford, Mass., adjunct professor at the University of Massachusetts-Boston and the first nurse to have been selected to serve on Stanford University’s Medicine X executive leadership board. According to Ressler, exploring social media can be an opportunity for nurses to engage in the conversation and discuss healthcare trends.
“Nurses are used to being on the front lines of patient care in communities, and we now have the opportunity to connect with patients in their online communities by logging in and sharing our voice online," she said.
Ressler became aware of the power of social media when her teenage son was diagnosed with a terminal form of cancer in 2000. When he was admitted to the hospital, he still wanted to keep in contact with his friends. Ressler connected his computer to a landline dial-up and describes how – for a moment – while chatting over instant messenger, her son felt like a kid again.
“The experience opened my eyes to the isolation patients can feel when they are facing a chronic illness,” said Ressler. “I realized how the internet can become a tool of connection for patients who are suffering or in pain. It can connect them to the outside world and it can connect them to other patients.”
Many patients look online when seeking health information, but social media can be especially helpful for chronic disease patients seeking relief from the feeling of isolation. Social media can be a way for patients to exchange treatment information, discuss symptoms, share experiences and encourage each other.
“Sometimes people dismiss social media as trivial,” said Ressler. “But they’re missing the big picture. For many patients, interacting online creates a sense of being part of a real, vibrant community.”Even with all of the benefits of engaging on social, Ressler does urge caution for nurses using social media.
“I see social media as a wonderful place to share knowledge, track trends in healthcare and engage in dialogue with a large audience, but we must always remember the public nature of all social media platforms, and remember that confidentiality and privacy policies follow us into our online conversations just as they do in our face-to-face conversations. There can be legal consequences to nurses who violate HIPAA and other employer policies about privacy and confidentiality of patient information.”
For more information about the future of nursing, listen to an interview with Pam Ressler on the Campaign’s podcast, “Nursing Notes Live.” To learn more about how to become active on social media, check out Ressler's tips below. Ressler's tips are also featured in the new DiscoverNursing.com Student Nurse Section, which has even more information about how to use social media to launch a job search, establish a "personal brand" and navigate the web.
Ressler's Quick Social Media Tips
- Join LinkedIn to find professional opportunities. As a nurse, it’s important to create a professional profile on LinkedIn.com -- no matter what stage you are in your career. The profile gives you a chance to articulate your skills and define your professional goals. LinkedIn also serves as a great resource for networking with other nurses and finding a job. I recommend joining specialty groups on LinkedIn that fit your interests, like pediatric nursing, as well as national nursing organizations.
- Maintain a professional online presence. It is important for nurses and other healthcare professionals to always keep their tone and language appropriate when engaging in social media. Employers tend to look at candidates’ social media profiles to gauge the personality of potential employees.
- Take a seat at the table. Use social media to collaborate with others around an area of interest. Through Tweet chats or by networking on LinkedIn, you can find colleagues around the world who are passionate about similar issues in particular specialties. Social media can help you step out of a nursing silo and collaborate with other healthcare professionals.
- Even in private forums, consider everything on social media to be public. Always remember that you are nurse, and confidentiality and privacy are important. In the same way you wouldn’t forget you’re a nurse if you were in an elevator in your hospital, don’t forget you’re a nurse when posting on social media. As a nurse, I don’t post anything that I wouldn’t feel comfortable being available to the public.
- Maintain HIPAA regulations. It’s important to refrain from diagnosing and giving specific, individual medical advice online to comply with HIPAA regulations. For more information about staying in compliance with HIPAA rules, read the National Council of State Boards of Nursing’s “Guide to Social Media.”
- Listen first, engage second. Social media is not a broadcast tool, it’s a conversation. Observe the discussion thoroughly before entering the conversation to ensure it is one you want to be part of.
- Remember that you aren’t expected to become tech-savvy overnight. If you are new to social media, begin with creating a LinkedIn profile to dip your toe into the water and have a professional presence online. You don’t need to jump in the deep end and do everything at once!
- Share your voice! Nurses are well-positioned to be leaders and advocates in the health and wellness of our society. We need to articulate those skills and put ourselves in the same space as other leaders in other industries! Social media is one vehicle that allows us to add the nursing voice to the healthcare conversation in a truly powerful way.