As a nurse who not only engages in social media but also is clearly visible in social media I put myself “out there” every day, this is something that I have been reflecting on recently following some conversations with student nurses about being approached for health advice over social media. I think it’s important for us as nurses to think about what we would do if someone were to ask us for health advice, as to not think about it is to not be prepared … and being unprepared is always more challenging. It may never happen but as my childhood girl guide training taught me it’s always good to be prepared. My thoughts around this consist mostly of three points:
Firstly – it’s not black and white! It’s not about engaging or not engaging with someone and therefor you can’t plan ahead of time what you would do. Whilst on one level a friend may ask for a link to stop smoking info via Facebook on the opposite end of the scale someone you don’t know could tweet you a picture of their haemorrhoids !!
Secondly – The NMC Code States “Always offer help if an emergency arises in your practice setting or anywhere else” Which essentially means we can’t walk on by when faced with a call for help in an emergency….. and I would argue that this could arise in social media settings too. Conversely we also have our own expertise to contend with – we should not practice outside our expertise – so although we may be being asked for health advice we may not have the expertise to deal with that or have enough information to be able to deal with it.
Thirdly – social media is growing year on year which means that this may become more of an issue than it was 8 years ago when I started blogging and tweeting.
What does all this mean as regards having a plan of action should this happen – if I was asked for health advice via social media what would I do?
1 – I would Remember that just because social media is instant I don’t have to be. I would take time to think and if needed contact someone more senior than me for advice on what to do … phone a friend!
2 – I would use a real life analogy to help me to figure out what to do. With the haemorrhoid example above my thinking would be what if someone I had just met at a party suddenly dropped their trousers in front of everyone and asked me what I thought! My immediate action would be to take that conversation to a more private space … and as haemorrhoids aren’t my area of expertise I would advise them to contact their GP. So why not apply the same principles in social media ?? Real life analogies for social media can help us to think things through.
3 – I would be honest and open with someone if I felt it would put my registration at risk to help them and always advise them to seek help offline.
4 – I would take screen shots of the interaction to ensure I had documented evidence of the interaction.
5 – If in doubt I would refer back to the NMC code, after all it is a working document.
It’s worth adding to this that during all my time (8 years) in tweeting, blogging and using Facebook as a nurse I have only ever faced this situation twice. The first time was a friend asking health advice about her daughter via Facebook – I immediately phoned her and said I couldn’t really give advice over Facebook but it was important that she took her daughter to the GP. The second time it was someone I didn’t know asking for advice about a dying relative via a Twitter direct message – I very politely told them that it was really difficult for me to advise them over Twitter as I did not know them or their relative and Twitter is a hard place to judge context. I advised them to contact their GP as soon as possible to discuss. They were very apologetic and said that they understood and thanked me for responding.
I think that interwoven into all of this is that they general public aren’t stupid … they may from time to time do something daft -like sending you a picture of their haemorrhoids- but generally people are aware that social media is not the place for specialist and specific nursing advice. This shouldn’t stop us as nurses from using social media but it should give us cause to pause and reflect on what we would do. I would urge any nurse using social media to reflect on this …. your plan may be different to mine, but threaded through it should be the intention to stay within the NMC code.