Personal Support Workers (PSW’s) have a vital role to play in the Ontario health care system. They provide highly personal care and are accordingly privy to all sorts of private information.
That’s why accredited Personal Support Worker training programs almost always include a course on the ethics that are an inherent part of the PSW’s daily routine. Among the most important of these ethics is the PSW’s duty to protect their client’s private information.
Even with the proliferation of the Internet in general and social media websites in particular, patient confidentiality remains a primary concern. Internet users may be accustomed to sharing everything online, but ethical considerations dictate that Personal Support Workers should carefully weigh any content before placing it online.
Potential Consequences of an Online Confidentiality Breach
Patient confidentiality is no mere philosophical issue. In fact, laws protect the patient’s right to privacy. When a PSW breaches this right, they have broken the law. Consequences can include loss of employment and a lawsuit brought by the patient.
Although Personal Support Workers are not regulated, but it might be a reality soon. PSW registry already exists in Ontario and any breach on client confidentiality could possibly reflect on your overall reputation and significantly damage your prospects for future employment.
Guidelines for Safe Social Media Use
Setting stringent privacy settings on social media accounts such as facebook are important, but only a beginning. If your colleagues have access to the social media account, you should refrain from work-related posts. The following guidelines can serve as general rules:
1. Follow All Workplace Stipulated Guidelines
Health care employers are increasingly creating social media guidelines for employees. Failure to follow guidelines can lead to disciplinary action or dismissal. PSW’s who work where such a policy is in place should familiarize themselves with the policy and stick to it.
2. Keep Patient Information Private
Even when using generalized terms and keeping the patient’s name out, a breach of confidentiality may have occurred. Social media is a powerful tool for making connections, and even the most seemingly innocuous posting may be disseminated in hundreds of different places. Avoid this troubling morass by simply refusing to post anything about patients.
3. Don’t Make Friends with Patients
Ethics and laws help determine the permissible relationship between a healthcare worker and a patient in the real world, and the same should be true for the virtual world.
It is inadvisable to accept friend requests from patients. Doing so makes the division between professional and personal relationships unclear, and may undermine the patient’s trust in the healthcare system in general and Personal Support Workers in particular if they see the PSW’s make disparaging comments about patients.
4. Don’t Talk Shop
Even the best PSW’s experience frustration on the job, but social media is not the place to vent. It’s simply too easy for the comments to be reposted and end up in the wrong hands. Keep venting to a personal, one-on-one level with a trusted friend or family member in a private setting.
5. Refrain from Using Photos and Videos
On rare occasions, a patient may grant permission for a PSW to take a photograph or video. Keep any captured images strictly private, and never post them online.
6. Report Breaches
PSW’s have a duty to report online confidentiality breaches to the proper authority. This protects the profession and the facility that employs the PSW who made the breach.
7. Keep It Clean
Avoid disparaging remarks of all types. Be respectful and dignified online to avoid causing offence or risking workplace censure.
The Internet is a wonderful tool through which Personal Support Workers may share professional information without divulging private facts about patients/clients. With proper care, PSW’s can use social media to maintain professional contacts and promote the dissemination of material in a manner that supports patient confidentiality.
For example, LinedIn is a great professional networking tool that you can use to connect with other Personal Support Workers and also with organizations and facilities that hire PSW’s. In fact, many professionals use this social networking site to find their next job.
At the same time, be very careful when using social media of any type. You can use some of the resources and tools mentioned here to better manage your online presence.