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How should nurses handle requests for medical advice when using social media or chatting online in a private group?

Question:

Dear Donna:

I am a member of many nurse groups online and on Facebook. Many nurses ask opinions regarding what is wrong with them or their family members, or what treatments might help. I feel that answering these questions, without knowing the person or their medical history, is akin to practicing medicine and may put our licenses at risk. Is this true, or am I overreacting as others have pointed out?

Reluctant to Offer Opinions

Dear Donna replies:

Dear Reluctant to Offer Opinions,

I would say that it very much depends on the group and several other factors. For example, I write a public column here at Nurse.com. Periodically people write and ask for health advice. We always respond privately to them that we do not offer medical/health advice in this column and that they should consult with their healthcare professional.

However, I also belong to an online nursing group (listserv) which is for members only. It is a closed, private group (the public cannot see it) and one must request, and be granted, membership. We talk among ourselves about both nursing and non-nursing topics. List members do sometimes ask for opinions, advice and information about a health issue for themselves or a loved one. Members chime in if they have something to offer. But all of us fully understand the nature of the discussion and the information offered.

Facebook of course is yet another situation. And again it depends on several factors. If it is a nursing page/group, it wouldn’t be surprising for a member to ask other members about something happening with themselves or a loved one. Sometimes a nurse in a different specialty has valuable insights and may suggest researching various resources. This suggestion is in no way practicing medicine. But everything on Facebook and other social media sites is essentially public and discoverable, so every nurse should be cautious about posts written and to whom they are directed. Some healthcare professionals post a disclaimer on their social media page or website stating something such as, “All posts are for informational purposes only and do not constitute medical advice. Always seek the advice of a qualified health professional.”

I would advise that if you feel uncomfortable with any of the discussions that you simply stay out of them. You have apparently already expressed your concerns about the information being exchanged and what the others do from there is entirely up to them.

You might suggest to your employer and/or a nursing professional association to ask a nurse attorney to address appropriate, ethical and responsible use of social media and other online communication to avoid and minimize liability for nurses and their employers. It is definitely something every nurse needs to be educated about.

Here’s an article you may find helpful: “Risky business: Nurses must be aware of social networking pitfalls” (http://news.nurse.com/article/20140410/NATIONAL06/140410001#.VDrqUWd0yM8).

Best wishes,
Donna

By | 2014-10-13T00:00:00-04:00 October 13th, 2014|Categories: Blogs, Nursing careers and jobs|0 Comments

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