Nurses and social media: where do we go from here?

I recently attended an in-the-flesh meeting of tweeting healthcare professionals, organised by the ‘We Community’.  It was a vibrant day, with lively conversations around the role of social media in healthcare.

The subject that interested me the most, was this:

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©We Communities

This question generated a lot of debate around my table, largely as it raises a number of issues around the role of nurses in social media.

We asked:

  1. Should we be trying to improve peoples’ lives through social media?
  2. Do people want healthcare professionals to try and improve their lives via social media?
  3. Where do nurses stand in terms of duty and accountability?

Needless to say, we didn’t necessarily answer the question!

I recently wrote about the value of social media, especially twitter, for nurses.  It is an excellent space for engaging with the healthcare community and maintaining professional development.  But what about beyond that?

Should we be trying to improve peoples’ lives through social media?

As a nurse, I have a tendency to try and help others wherever possible.  Twitter is an amazing platform to communicate health information, share knowledge and demonstrate our value as a profession.

But what about beyond that?  Given the small number of nurses (compared to the number of UK registered nurses) who actively engage with twitter, is there scope to do more?  Or are we indirectly improving lives by being engaged professionals, passionate about nursing?

Do people want healthcare professionals to try and improve their lives via social media?

Writing in Forbes recently, Reenita Das talked about disruptive influences in healthcare. She reports that a key element of contemporary healthcare is patient to patient, or peer support.  It could be argued that patients and service users are ahead of the game when it comes to technology.

From the early days of the internet, self-help forums and online communities have flourished, providing the public with unprecedented access to information and support. This extends to social media where tweet chats are numerous and hashtags for every disease or illness imaginable connect people in an instant.

Are we being presumptuous in thinking we have a potential role in improving peoples lives via social media?  How can we add value in this space?

Where do nurses stand in terms of duty and accountability?

A recent We Community tweet chat on professional boundaries provides a great summary of some of the issues nurses need to consider when using twitter.  Several nurses have been the subject of NMC conduct hearings in recent years, in relation to social media.

It would be a brave nurse indeed who used social media to offer individual advice and support to the public.  I would consider it an accountability minefield.  However, the NMC Code stipulates that we are to “act in the best interests of people at all times.”  So where does that leave us?

If we go back to the original question, how can we improve peoples lives and services through social media?  The Code may actually provide us with some of the answers.  Take these three points:

  • “Share your skills, knowledge and experience for the benefit of people receiving care and your colleagues”
  • “Always practise in line with the best available evidence”
  • “Uphold the reputation of your profession at all times”

Any nurse engaged with social media in a professional capacity will know that these three elements make up the core of what we do in the digital world.  Are we then already improving peoples lives and services through social media?  If we are, where do we go from here?

As I pointed out earlier, the vast majority of registered nurses don’t appear to be actively engaged with social media in a professional capacity.  Maybe what we should be asking is ‘how do we engage our non-digital colleagues in improving peoples lives and services through social media?’

Clearly it’s a personal choice and a contentious issue.  I’ll be the first person to advocate switching off after a busy shift.  But what do you think?  Should more nurses engage with social media or is it too much to expect given the challenges they face day-to-day?  

©Jo Higman

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