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Five nurses fired for Facebook postings

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Five California nurses were recently fired after allegedly discussing patients on Facebook.

The nurses, who worked at Tri-City Medical Center in Oceanside, lost their jobs after an internal investigation and three weeks of administrative leave. While no details of the incident have been revealed, Larry Anderson, CEO of Tri-City Medical Center, has said that no patient names, photos or identifying information were included in the posts.

This isn’t the first time nurses have gotten into trouble for Facebook postings. In 2008, a photo of a topless British nurse — with patients in the background — appeared online, causing the hospital, Northampton General Hospital, to block acess to all social networking sites from work computers. In 2009, Wisconsin nurses were fired after two nurses took photos of a patient’s X-ray and allegedly posted it to Facebook. While the Facebook page was quickly removed, one of the nurses in question admitted to discussing the incident on her Facebook page. Photos of nurses having a food fight at Stafford Hospital in the UK also surfaced in 2009, quickly creating an uproar because the incident took place after a heavily publicized report that linked patient deaths to staff shortages and poor nursing care.

While a number of hospitals have social media policies in place — and HIPAA strictly enforces patient privacy and confidentiality — incidents continue to occur. How do you think hospitals should handle questionable social media postings? Is it ever appropriate to upload work pictures or to discuss work online?

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Jennifer Fink, RN, BSN

Jennifer is a professional freelance writer with over eight years experience as a hospital nurse. She has clinical experience in adult health, including med-surg, geriatrics and transplant; she also has a particular interest in women’s health and cancer care. Jennifer has written a variety of health and parenting articles for national publications.
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39 Responses to Five nurses fired for Facebook postings

  1. sean

    i think if names and phonts and identifing info is left out of on line postings/email than it should NEVER be a problem. food fights are wrong no mater what anyhow; waist of good food.

  2. Your name

    If there are no names or photos/xrays with names, then what is the problem?
    Nudity and food fights on the other hand are just stupid!!!

  3. Where do people leave their common sense? OR did they not have it to begin with. If nurses want to be treated as professionals, maybe they should act like professionals?

  4. Mo LeClair

    If no patient names, photos or identifying information were included in the posts then why/how is that different than when you go to a conference or seminar and the speaker uses patient examples to make or explain a point?

  5. Pre-nursing student

    Went though School of H_ _ _ to get to where they are today. Should have known better to post stuff about patients on the web?? You’re not even supposed to talk about patients in the elevator. Higher education does not help at all. no common sense.

  6. Kelly

    It seems that using social media at work is becoming such a growing issue, we’re hearing more stories like this everyday. There’s an excellent whitepaper download from Palo Alto Networks, “To Block or Not. Is that the question?” here: http://bit.ly/d2NZRp. It has lots of insightful and useful information about identifying and controlling Enterprise 2.0 apps (Facebook, Twitter, Skype, AIM, etc). Enjoy!

  7. nurse sheree

    no it should not be done….social networking is for friends and should respect privacy and knows the limitations..professional ethics and professional responsibilities should be acknowledge…..

  8. GINA PERODES

    WILL IN ANY WORKPLACE IT IS VERY UNTHECAL TO DISCUSS WORK RRELATED INCIDENTS AT ANY SOCIAL NETWORKING…IT IS SUPPOSE TO BE FOR FUN ONLY

  9. If no patient names, photos or identifying information were included in the posts, then they should not be fired.

    Where is due process of law?

  10. *OMG!!guys!!where is patients privacy?.if the names were mentioned,i realy think the patients rights were grossly violated!!

  11. ichu

    hey guys… you better be careful and respect patients cases confidentiality. wherever , whatever, whoever it is.

  12. Sally Cress, RN

    It matters very little about the “IF” a patient’s name was actually mentioned – the fact is, the world is a much smaller place than we all realize– just discussing case information can be an identifying factor. Nurses “talk” with other nurses– it is a fact of life- but the hows, wheres and whens of those discussions is a critical factor to be considered. Facebook, Twitter and all of the other “here and now” applications of our 21st century second-by second computerized world, are simply inappropriate places for such exchanges,– even the casual email to a nursing friend across the country–can be extremely risky…! We all understand the State and Federal regulations — we sign Privacy agreements with our Employers — so the any nurse who violates the regulations or those agreements, is lucky to ONLY be fired– and not be fined, jailed — or have their nursing license suspended or revoked! Wake up and Grow up, people! Do you want Your medical information discussed on Facebook?

  13. Jeanne O'Connor

    You play, you pay! I’m not quite sure if they have common sense classes available at this time for the 5 of you or not, or for the others not far behind.

  14. I cannot believe how dumb some nurses can be. we fought for years for respect and acknowledgement of our status and professionals instead of doctors handmaidens and incidents like this set us back.. How can we honestly complain about short staffing when we have time to take pix, play on the computer. and have food fights?? we had nurses fired at our hosp for taking pix of a doc who had just come out of surgery. get a grip folks IF YOU WANT TO BE TREATED AS A PRO, THEN ACT LIKE ONE. but PLEASE not as a sports pro..oh, well another story for another time

  15. Joycelyn Marr

    Unfortunately, I think the only answer is to have the websites blocked from work computers, because obviously there are enough nurses out there without common sense

  16. Lisa O

    Nurses work hard enough to dispel myths regarding our profession. Pranks such as those mentioned in the article are not only childish and silly, they are unprofessional. The internet is a publc forum and we are responsible to the public. Our personal lives are our own, but to demean and damage the education and pride we place in our work by actions such as these is horrid.

  17. renee

    As a nurse I am always very careful about what I post about my job. Usually its simple but I NEVER give any details, I do not say anything negative about my place of work or patients. There are many days that I would love to come home from work and complain about my boss, my job, and yes even my patients. I just DONT do it. You never know who is going to see it. I also refrain from posting any pictures or messages that pertain to personal activities that may be considered inappropriate.
    Yes our personal lives are private. But whatever is posted on Facebook, is no longer private.
    My rule is .. if i wouldnt want my grandma to see it, then i dont put it there!

  18. PM

    We have the right to vent. They should not have been fired especially if no patient names were posted. I gripe about work on FB but I’ve made sure to block my employer and my security settings only allow my “friends” to see what i’ve posted.

  19. deanna

    Those nurses should have been fired for being stupid

  20. These idiots give nursing a bad name!!

  21. cindy

    IMHO: If you really, really need to vent about a patient or your boss, call one of your friends on the phone. I respect my patients, residents, bosses and co-workers way too much to “put it in writing”. One of the first things I learned in school, “If it ain’t documented, it ain’t done.” Once you put it in writing and send it off into the Internet, you can NEVER take it back. Sure you are upset today, but what about tomorrow???? Are you going to regret what you “said”?

  22. Deb

    It’s just common sense not to talk about your workplace on the www. As nurses we even have more of a responsibility to protect those we care for. And as for food fights, puleese, that’s just high school.

  23. @Mo LeClaire: It’s different cuz online, it’s posted and patient can access the network and if he suspects that he is the topic of your discussion.. or if other people discover that nurses share patient information with each other–even with nurses who didn’t handle them as patients, it’s going to give some kind of bad reputation on the health care service of that place or hospital if no legal measures are attained.

  24. Tricia Rhooms-Straker

    Respect your patients and your profession at all times and keep comments general to avoid conflict and promote positivity.

  25. CM

    It really doesn’t matter if employers block social network sites at work. The type of technology available on cell phone today allow people to take pictures and post them to these sites; all in only a few clicks of a button. I agree that the actions of these nurses were VERY irresponsible…and they should have been fired. It is very easy to identify a pt, just by their medical conditions, and you never know who is reading your posts. I never talk about work online. I love what I do, and would never purposely do anything that would cause me to be fired…or lose my license.

  26. Barb

    It seems to me the rule is if you can identify the patient, even IF their name was not mentioned, it is against the law. There are a lot of ways to identify a patient. You don’t necessarily have to mention their name

  27. belinda

    i cannot believe some people think its ok to discus patients and publicise xrays and stuff. whether or not the patient /s were identified in any way is totally irrelevant. these things/cases would be recognised by family and close friends. what if someone found out a loved one was terminaly ill through their stupidity. patient confidentiality it in place for a reason. as for the topless pics and food fights, your in the wrong job, go be a porn star/ clown.

  28. Fran Woulard

    To make a blank statement about the quality of the facebook nurses without knowing exactly what they wrote is worse than what they did. You are making an uneducated opinion & that is not right. Now, if the nurses in the article were commenting negatively about a pt or the pt saw it & took offense because they thought maybe they were the one being discussed, that’s a shame. It was a stupid thing to go. The hospital fired them out of fear of lawsuit. One would wonder what they had done if one of the perpetrators was a physician. I mention this because I have seen the same scenario, but it was the doctor doing the talking.
    If a nurse wants to expose her breast outside of her work establishment without mentioning the establishment, it’s her decision as long as it doesn’t affect her employer or pts. I personally don’t agree with what she did, but a fire offense?
    Food fights are juvenile & should not be in a hospital unless as an organized charity event or something of that nature.
    Being a facebook user, I see extremely illogical, stupid, harmful or juvenile posts on a daily basis from people I normally think of as fairly intelligent. Facebook seems to bring it out of certain people. My hospital doesn’t allow it in the facility which is appropriate because you are there to work not play.
    I have some major concerns with HIPAA in general. One of my jobs is getting medical histories & deciding on what tests to perform based on those. I can’t count the number of times I have been chewed out by the pt or family during a phone interview because they just gave their physician the information & don’t we guys “communicate with each other”? They’re right, we should be able to communicate with each other. Patients can’t always remember their history on a normal day, much less during the mental stress of a coming surgery. They really get offended when I explain HIPAA & that their doctors’ office will require them to go sign a consent before they will give me ANYTHING from their records, even if it means driving a couple of hours to get there because they don’t know anyone with a fax machine.
    Of course, the HIPAA law actually does allow shared information used to provide or continue care of the patient. The pt signed consent at the office at the beginning of the year which gave the facility permission for just this. Yet I can’t get one hospital to transfer information to my hospital. How stupid & time consuming is this.
    So, the easiest & fastest ways to access pt information is no longer possible. Rather than try to get test results without a pt signature it’s just easier to redo all the tests, even if he just had them the day before. If I get an abnormal EKG, I simple tell them they have to drive to the other hospital, sign consent and get me their old EKG’s to compare with ours. It’s inconvenient for them & wasteful of time. As for the history, I’ve become very good at dragging out the details. What should take 15 minutes now takes a minimum of 30 to 45 & even then, you aren’t sure if it is accurate. Most people seem to take the pt history lightly, but the right information can save a life so I take it seriously.
    I like the HIPAA law, but its interpretations are causing chaos in a system that is supposed to be for the patient. I apologize for using this forum for venting my frustration.

  29. Siobhan

    I am a student nurse, and while write statuses along the lines of “had a good day at work” I would never write about a specific patient or colleague. It’s unnecessary and completely unprofessional!

  30. As for the food fights and porn at work – that is childish, a whole different topic and deserves every bit of criticism spoken here. As hard as I work as a floor RN, I cannot believe anyone has the time for such foolishness. If you do need to do something childish or silly to overcome your overwhelming stress, please wait until you get home!

    However, to repeat a prior post: “If no patient names, photos or identifying information were included in the posts then why/how is that different than when you go to a conference or seminar and the speaker uses patient examples to make or explain a point?” This does not violate HIPPA and is absolutely no different from the case work we all do in school, continuing education, conferences, seminars, in-services, etc., with no identifying details. Nurses MUST have these discussions to be nurses at all. Anonymous case studies, whether formal or informal, are mandatory for our profession and all of you who are nurses already know this.

    Nurses, please stop trying to justify the firing of our colleagues for simply sharing their HIPPA-compliant clinical experience with others – that is just wrong and violates every principle of free speech. If you are not an advocate for free speech, please take your own advice and keep your thoughts to yourself.

  31. jojo

    Seriously people I thought this was America? Land of the free? Nudity and food fights are unprofessional and should not be associated with a facility. To discuss de-identified patient situations is neither illegal or unethical. And before anyone gets all fired up about hipaa, I recommend reading not only hipaa rules, but the glossary that interprets them. It is probably the most widely abused, misunderstood law in the country. Employers love it because they can use it as a pretext to fire employees for illegal reasons.

  32. Robert

    I have been an employer and employee. At some point we all hate our boss or work, and sometimes we love it. Posting something negative about your job can have detrimental effects in your workplace, profits go down and you don’t get a raise. figure it out. We all want to blow off steam, it helps to relieve stress. If you do not violate HIPAA rules for privacy – Post Away. I personally dont care if someone posted about me “I took care of a 39 yr old male with impotence today.” and I really don’t care if it was about someone else, I am not interested, not even if it was George Clooney. Just be Smart, follow the rules, and don’t shoot yourself in the foot by posting something that will affect you down the road.

  33. Jay

    HIPAA rules are basic they do not take in all situations. However, a true professional will never do such a thing as take pictures of patients in stages of undress let alone post them on the internet. How would you feel if it were pictures of yourself with no name posted on someone elses site? there is always someone out there that will know who the picture is of. HIPAA is not the gaurdian of a patients dignity it is your Morals. If we each one thought how would we feel it that was of us on the internet it would stop most of this. I cant believe all the nurses and doctors that allow cameras in the O R , or taking copies of tests results out of the hospital. We should be first in line to report this abuse.

  34. Bobbsmm

    Regardless of whether they posted photos or gave names. They were being childless. Think of what they would probably do in the future. They are supposed to be professionals. They nursing field are filled with nothing but babies nowadays. Years ago, there were more professionals.

  35. BD Fan

    I am totally floored that any Nurse would think its OK to post,take pictures or talk about a patient in anyway outside the hospital,office.Nurses You want to treated like a medical professional then you don’t post an ex-ray of someone that had a object stuck in his rectum.Social networking should never be used by any person to talk about another patient, customer info.Why would you need to post anything medical about a patent on facebbok?…

  36. guest

    Food fight is wrong no matter if it is in a hospital, office, it is just unprofessional and childlish. Period. If the facebook post doesnt give any obvious clues about a patient, no name, picture, then where is the problem? Where is that HIPAA violation? I don’t see any problem. I would rather investigate use of social networking at work, but if it happens from home, that shouldn’t be a problem.

  37. granny53

    I have never listed on Facebook where I am employed. Never placed it into a comment. Never listed it/mentioned it on my blog. And yet I was brought into the office and there was a printout of a statement I made (I commented on being tired of not getting lunches or breaks) and the many many comments that were added to it – most of them I had not even seen yet. This was a verbal – nothing signed – but wonder what it says in my jacket? I told my boss, and followed thru with it, by deleting that comment and responses as soon as I got home that night. So – gotta beware of ANYTHING that is posted on the ‘net….

  38. hopefull2014

    i have a ex friend who is a r.n and post on face book about a minor having an abortion for all there friends and family to see this person all so posted about the mom having an abortion. this this r.n nurse in violation of the hipp laws even tho she wasnt there nurse?

  39. hopefull2014

    i have a ex friend who is a r.n and posted o n face book about a minor having an abortion for all their friends and family to see this person all so posted about the mom having an abortion.is this r.n nurse in violation of the hippa laws even tho she wasnt there nurse?