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“Just got home. Two hours late! A nightmare of a night shift. Admissions, post-ops, and then a code. And who came to help? A new intern who didn’t know beans. Heading to the beach now to sleep in peace.”

I’m exaggerating a bit (I hope), but posts almost like this have crept into our social media. In the current “Nursing Spectrum” (8/22/11), Kathleen Pagana, RN, PhD, offers a CE program addressing the “risks of social networks as they break down the walls separating our personal and professional lives.” (p. 21) In particular, Pagana addresses ways health care professionals on Facebook can violate the HIPAA privacy Rule and/or hospital policies.

If you haven’t reviewed HIPAA lately, now’s the time to do it.  And if you haven’t reviewed your hospital polices regarding your use of social media, now’s the time to do it. BEFORE you write your next Facebook post about what happened at work.

Lawsuits are waiting to happen.  Firings are in the wings.

As I read the article, the word CONFIDENTIALITY scrolled rapidly across my mind. How many times have we heard that word in our nursing programs, in our orientations, and in our jobs?

I’ve had CONFIDENTIALITY drummed into me by my professors at every level of my education, and, in turn, I’ve drummed it into my hundreds of students. NEVER discuss patients on an elevator. NEVER discuss patients when you’re in the cafeteria. NEVER discuss patients with your family and friends.

And, in today’s technology, we have to add, NEVER discuss patients on Facebook. Just think your FRIEND, or your FRIEND’s FRIEND, or your employer, could put pieces together and identify your place of work, your shift, your patient! Think of what damage you could do to your patient. And to yourself.

Once, when I was with students on a psych unit, a student recognized a name as we were listening to report. Her face went pale. Then she told me and the other students that a friend had told her about an acquaintance who’d gone home from work the day before acting funny. Now, how was she not going to let on that she had encountered this person on the unit? (All details are changed here for CONFIDENTIALITY.)

As nurses we often face knowing our patients. And assuring them that we will keep every aspect of their hospitalizations confidential.

And, sometimes, we may be that patient ourselves. One morning I was coming out of a store when I overheard someone from my doctor’s office talking about me to another woman.  The other person saw me approaching and asked why I had gone to the doctor.  (Details changed here!)

At times like this, in addition to boiling inside and needing to cool my cauldron that’s ready to spew forth a heated lecture on CONFIDENTIALITY, I’d like to say something really dumb like, “Oh, I think that visit was for my logus of the bogus.” Or “I think my problem that day was for the hardening of my pie crust.”

Get the point? Long before HIPAA came to rule our lives, we knew about CONFIDENTIALITY. But I think we can stand a reminder, me included.

Don’t talk (or write) about patients. Someone is listening. Or reading. And it may be your employer. Or your patient’s lawyer, or his mother, or her sister…