No Social Media Healing for Nurses

Good conversation (@cjbryant) over dinner last night had me thinking: Are privacy laws relevant and accurate in today’s healthcare world?

I have had a number of patients pass away recently. Due to their specific illnesses’, these patients had many lengthy stays with our team and the nurses have grown to love these patients over months to years. Needless to say, their deaths were a heavy burden on us.

As a Gen Y woman, I grew up in the days of being constantly connected: AIM (yes, I know you remember AOL chats), Facebook (my first year of college was the year Mark Zuckerburg created “The Facebook” and I happened to go to a University that was allowed to join), not to mention the boom of other communities such as Twitter, YouTube, Foursquare, and Quora.

Our lives are online.

Social Media is frequently used in our generation (and others as well) as a tool for healing. When my grandfather passed away, one of my first inclinations was to post a remembrance message and photo on Facebook. Because we shared the same birthday, each year, I change my profile picture to one of him and I. Maybe that doesn’t sound like much to some of you, but to me it means everything. It is a way for me to remember him and show others how much he meant to me.

Bring it back to the hospital: These patients impact us as nurses and the healthcare team on a personal level. And their deaths hit us especially hard. Recently, I held the hand of a tearful patient while she pleaded for us not to give up on her. Then she died. I know thats dramatic, but it happened. For fear of retribution from our employer due to privacy issues, nurses of this generation are forced to bottle up these emotions. Our typical outlet and mechanism of dealing with grief is cut off.

Let me tell you, I don’t plan on posting the personal health information of my patients on Facebook after they die. I’m simply bringing this generational issue to light. This may be a situation that those who draft privacy guidelines may not consider.

The question remains: Is it possible to reconcile current privacy laws with a new social media generation of healthcare workers?

5 Comments on “No Social Media Healing for Nurses

  1. You raise very valid points. What did nurses do before social media, in order to vent and work through their own grief? They talked with each other, talked with their family (spouse), and who knows what else???

  2. It was a great conversation last night and I look forward to hearing what others have to say on the topic. I think its a challenge that we health care providers — hospitals, nursing homes, etc — will need to face sooner rather than later. Having had both my mother and father in long term care I don’t think we (providers) can underestimate the relationship that nurses, aides and others who care for patients day in and day out develop with patients and families.

    My father spent 7 years in a nursing home. His nurse Crystal, who cared for him for the last 4 years of his life, was like family. He passed in 1991 but I have no doubt that if we had Facebook then, we would have been “friends”. When my dad died, or more recently when my mother passed, had the nurses and other staff that cared for them posted a picture on Facebook or shared a memory as a way of expressing their grief, I’m confident I would have found comfort too in knowing that my family member had been looked after by individuals who cared.

    I would think we could find a way to set some guidelines, educate, and have confidence that the individuals we entrust to make life and death decisions or care for individuals at their end of life can exercise good judgement about sharing a symbol of their grief with their friends and family in the way they share everything else in their life.

    Or maybe I have my rose colored glasses on and the SarahBeth RN’s and Crystal’s are the exceptions not the rule??

  3. Great write up and a really interesting perspective. I think you’re totally right about many of us wanting be social when dealing with our grief. I know that when my wife miscarried I wanted to talk through the experience as a way of dealing with the situation. Facebook and other social media provide that outlet for many people.

    What about an internal app like Yammer for the hospital where you can discuss your experience, but in a protected and HIPAA secured environment? Could be an interesting alternative.

    P.S. I’m really glad you moved to so I can comment.

  4. Thank you for your touching disclosure.
    As I much older nurse, with a little bit more clinical, emotional and spiritual experience, I’d like to share some thoughts:
    No matter how human and compassionate you are, when you are a nurse, you have to draw lines, build walls and set limits for how much you will allow yourself to incorporate your professional world into your personal life. Nursing is seductive because it offers us nurses, the opportunity to be 100% giving, selfless, altruistic,generous and compassionate, together with objectivity to understand pathophysiology and clinical events. Nursing is an escape form the fickleness and shallowness that is so common in our society. Nursing always allows me to feel good about myself, because I always know I am being good to others. Nevertheless, I have learned how to leave work issues exactly where they belong: At the bedside. I live my professional daily journey with 2 eyes on the patient, but I know very well, when my shift is up. I offer all I have for the suffering patient, and this ability to give it my all at the bedside, is what frees me and allows me not to get attached to any patient for any time longer than my shift. Before my shift is up, time allowing, I say good bye and wish my patients well, one by one. When one of my patients passes away under my watch, I silently say goodbye as I thank my Divine Authority, for allowing me to do something good for this person. That is closure and mourning for me, that is my “life technique”. For my own well being, I know I cannot be lingering in pain, in sadness and in loss. At the end of my shift, when I clock out, I full world of life awaits me outside. I return to my home, where my kids, my pets, my family and my friends demmand my health, my lightness of being, my laughter , my tears and at times, my hand into theirs. The sea of patients that have passed through my care, are like the sand in the hour glass; speckles of colors, running through my fingers, unique and irreplaceable, but on this Earth for only a short period or on a temporary assignment…

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