Over the past week, I have once again found proof that continuous education and professional growth are essential tools in nursing. When receiving basic nursing education, many students expect to gain all the necessary knowledge in a few years, exploiting the knowledge later in practice. However, the more I became invested in the specifics of nursing, the more I realized the need for constant learning. One of the course topics this semester was the role of technology in health care and patient outcomes. While it seems obvious that nurses should learn how to integrate technology into daily care, the reality of embracing digital and social media tools is ethically and functionally complex.
For example, given the current COVID-19 environment with social distancing, self-isolation, and the inability to pay visits to the physician, many patients find alternative channels of communication and ask nurses to contact them on the phone or social media. Although this option seems like a relevant solution, I have discovered there are various ethical challenges to exchanging information with patients. For example, when I mentioned to one of my patients that I would call her to provide some additional information, the patient asked me to send her a text instead, as she could be unavailable. While such an option might seem quick and efficient for both parties, I needed to address the potential risks of such communication. According to HIPAA guidelines, texting itself is not a violation of patient safety and privacy (“Is texting in violation of HIPAA?” n.d.). However, after further reading, I have identified that using personal phones to text with patients might implicitly put their safety at risk, as the messaging tools on cell phones are not encrypted with Protected Health Information (PHI) protocol. As a result, an innocent text requested by the patient can result in a breach of privacy and access by third-party users. For this reason, even when texting is necessary, the information should be written in a way that would not disclose any sensitive details and information about the patient.
Undeniably, the use of technology has now become an integral part of the nursing profession, as we use electronic health records and telemedicine devices on a nearly daily basis. Moreover, nurses nowadays use social media platforms such as Twitter or Facebook to debate public health care and community education (O’Connor & Holloway, 2019). However, the demand for new communication methods should not stand in the nurses’ advocacy for patient safety and privacy. Hence, there is a need to constantly learn how to ensure maximum respect for the patients even when some actions deem to be more time-efficient and accessible. Moreover, this experience demonstrates how reviewing nursing policies is mandatory for every nurse.
In fact, the initiatives to review nursing practice guidelines should be a part of the nursing leaders’ agenda, as promoting safety and professionalism in the workplace is the key to productivity. This week’s learning materials and nursing practice have demonstrated a fine line between serving patients and doing the right thing. For example, when a patient asks to text the lab test results for the sake of convenience, they cannot be accused of not thinking about their privacy and safety. It is the nurse’s responsibility to assist the patients and ensure every action complies with the existing professional guidelines.
Is texting in violation of HIPAA? (n.d.). HIPAA Journal. Web.
O’Connor, S., & Holloway, A. (2019). Social media in nursing and health policy: A commentary. Policy, Politics, & Nursing Practice, 20(4), 188-190. Web.