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A Facebook vent

Case study about social media & confidentiality



Sarah’s day on the long-term care unit had been long and tough. She felt stretched by Mrs. Chan’s family. Mrs. Chan had been a resident in the care facility for over a year — ever since dementia made it unsafe for her to live alone. Mrs. Chan's daughter and son were regular visitors and often stopped to talk with nurses. They asked about how Mrs. Chan was doing and were occasionally critical of her care.

What happened?

In the morning, Mrs. Chan’s daughter visited. She stopped Sarah with questions about her mother’s care. Sarah did her best to listen and discuss the issues raised. When Mrs. Chan’s son visited later in the day, he asked Sarah many of the same questions. Even though Sarah was running behind, she stopped, listened and explained Mrs. Chan's care. An hour later, the unit manager told Sarah that Mrs. Chan's relatives had phoned with concerns about her care. They said that when they’d talked to Sarah she was "busy" and "unhelpful."

Venting on Facebook

After her shift, Sarah tapped in to Facebook. After reading new posts and comments, she updated her status. Her post read "so much for being patient and listening — some people apparently just don't want to hear — maybe dementia is hereditary?"

What are your thoughts?

  • What do you think about Sarah's post?
  • Is it ever okay to post work-related comments on social media sites?
  • Does it make a difference if names of people and places are not included?

What do the Standards say?

As a nurse, Sarah is required to protect client privacy and confidentiality. Standard 4 of the Professional Standards and the Privacy and Confidentiality Practice Standard set requirements for nurses’ practice.

What were Sarah’s mistakes?

Sarah made two errors. The first was posting a remark that was disrespectful of a client’s family. The second was including information that could identify a client.

While Sarah didn’t include names or roles of any of the people involved, client privacy can be breached without identifiers. It's possible someone might piece together the information and know who she’s talking about.

On her Facebook page, Sarah may say she’s a nurse and identify her employer. Her reference to 'dementia' provides a clue that she’s posting about something that happened at work.

What happened next?

Later that evening, Sarah checked Facebook. A colleague had commented on her post, "You must be talking about Mrs. C's family. Just ignore them!" Sarah realized her post could get her into trouble. She deleted it and messaged her colleague, "Sorry! Bad post! I need to find a better way to let off steam!"