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Nurse as a profession is subject to legal, ethical and professional guidelines which gives them direction or order of operation. Guidelines which include, patient autonomy, patient privacy or confidentially and the duties to show empathy and not to harm our patient during the process of performing our duties as care provider. Like the saying goes that “to err is human” nurse tend to make mistakes sometime just like any human, or at worst tends to commit professional blunder which definitely in most cases will incur legal suit.
By this, Nurses tend to face legal and ethical challenges on a daily basis, many of which are directly related to legislative changes regarding confidentiality issues. Issues of confidentiality have been a part of ethical nursing for decades. My example of legal issues in nursing will be focusing on breach of confidentiality. HIPPA laws require that breaches in patient confidentiality to be reported.
In these days when social media has become the order of the day, all care giver professional should be very careful what story, what picture or things they posted on their personal social media network.
Such is the story of a nurse Ms. Thomas, which happen to be in the pediatric oncology unit. She was assigned to a 9year old patient with leukemia. The patient was being treated with chemo-radiation which involves the patient to clean shave her head. In one of Ms. Thomas encounter with the patient, the mother of the patient requested that the nurse should help to take a photograph of her and her daughter in the treatment room.
The mother of the patient Ms. Smith took her phone and handed it over to the nurse, Ms. Thomas. Ms. Thomas took the phone try to focus on the duo to take the picture, but unfortunately the phone camera wasn’t working. After, a few trials by the nurse and couldn’t get photograph taken, she handed over the camera back to the patient. Oh! Can you use your camera to snap the photograph, I will give you my email and so you could send it over to me, Ms. Smith requested? Ms. Thomas did not hesitate forgetting that her phone camera is directly link to her social media accounts. Any photograph taken by the phone camera is automatically uploaded to her homepage on Facebook.
Mr. Smith, patient father and Ms. Smith husband is a director of logistic in railway transportation company with over one thousand staffs including their territory branches. During one of the executive meetings, some co-workers alerted Mr. Smith to the photograph of her daughter with bald head and the mother on social media pages. To make the matter worst, the picture could be downloaded by any network user and send it to whoever he/she wants to. Mr. Smith was shocked to find out that nearly all the staffs has a copy. Staffs are organized a fund-raising event for his daughter. This is a kind and humane gesture by the staff, though a charitable act, yet it was humiliating to Mr. Smith. Legal action was taken against Ms. Thomas for breach of confidentiality. The nurse defense was that she was just being helpful in taken the picture and secondly, she forgot that her phone camera was linked to her personal social media network page. Ms. Smith was called to the stand at the court, she admitted that she did request for help from Ms. Thomas after her personal phone camera failed to operate.
However, Ms. Smith claimed that the nurse knew very much that her phone camera was linked that media web page and she believed the nurse uploaded her photograph and that of her daughter purposely to make fun of her daughter bald head. After deliberation by the court, the court found Ms. Thomas guilty of breach of confidentiality. The court claimed that it is the responsibility of the nurse to be aware of the set-up of her personal equipment, and in addition she should be aware of what level of security provided on it. Ms. Thomas was fined of a huge amount; her nursing license was put on probation for some years and she eventually lost her job with her employer. As sad as this above case may be, there are certain limitation nurses and health care needs to set for themselves when considering relationship between the care provider and their patients. In my own opinion, this case of Ms. Thomas could happen to anybody. This is the case I will categorize as an honest mistake rather than professional ethics blunders. It is very difficult for the nurse to really prove her innocence in this case.
In my own view, I believe there are certain guides that could help one not to fall a victim of invasion of a patient privacy as a caregiver. My recommendation is as follows: First and foremost, as a nurse providing care for a patient one should familiarize yourself with facility protocols in regards to use of social media and strictly adhere to it. One should assume that once an information is posted the whole world has seen it. Having this at back of your mind all the time will make one to be cautious on what information is disperse on the social media. It is also advisable never to share the usage of your personal social media equipment such as your personal phone with a patient you are providing care for. Ms. Thomas wouldn’t have fallen a victim of legal suit if she had not yield to the request of Ms. Smith. It is also advisable never to discuss any official issues with your coworker on the social media. And in addition, don’t form a caucus with anyone from your job, there is always a tendency that current affairs pertaining to work place will surface during your chatting.
Secondly, make sure you understand all the terminology of every social media you participated as a member. It is also advisable to stay clear of taking photograph at work place, either with a patient or personal photograph unless in occasion organized by the facility management. And most importantly, avoid giving medical advice on the social media. Finally, As the Internet, social media, and other new technologies have advanced and made deep inroads into health care, new areas of potential liability have emerged. Inappropriate use of these technologies can have far-reaching ramifications for professionally licensed providers. The law doesn’t change as fast as science does, so it lags behind technological advances. Statutes and regulations addressing such areas as intellectual property, privacy, child pornography, and stalking were written before the Internet created instant worldwide data transmission. As case law evolves to address Internet-age communications, laws will be amended and shaped to reflect this reality. Meanwhile, nurses must understand the potential legal risks of misusing social media.
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