The Internet has not only changed how we entertain ourselves but also how we work. One of the biggest changes stemming from the Internet is how we communicate ideas. The rise of social media and social networks has impacted the practice of nursing. Social media refers to means of generating and sharing information to a wide audience. For instance, health promotion video giving people information about the risk factors and prevention of heart disease disseminated through YouTube is a social media. A social network is an engagement of a group of people with common interests. For example, disease-specific social support groups which associate in Internet-based websites and build relationships through sharing relevant information are social networks. Social media has a general target audience and a social network has a specific target; there is an increase in the number of people using social media and networks for health purposes. Antheunis, Tates, & Nieboer, (2013) report that 59% of people use Twitter for exchanging advice and increasing knowledge, 52.3% use Facebook for social support and advice, and 70.7% of health professionals use LinkedIn to communicate with colleagues. Should the nurses use social media and networking to promote nursing practice? The position taken is that nurses should leverage social media to promote the nursing practice because of the many positive outcomes from the practice. Social media and networks provide nurses with opportunities to get feedback on the quality of the care they offer and to seek public support during lobbying; give nurses new channels to engage with colleagues, and to promote health at a community level.
First, Nurses have a duty to provide quality health care services that are acceptable to the patients. To meet this goal, nurses use advocacy and lobbying to ensure passage of policies and regulations that enhance nursing care. Social media provides a platform for nurses to advocate, lobby and gain public support for better regulations. A recent case of using social media to advocate on nursing issue is the 2012 when RN regulators in Canada had chosen the National Council of States Boards of Nursing (NCSBN) to develop a computer based entry exam for RNs. NCSBN is an American organization and Judith Shamian, the CAN president launched a social media campaign to advocate for a “made-in-Canada” exam which would reflect the health needs of Canadians (McIntyre, & McDonald, 2013). The campaign video in YouTube was viewed over 20,000 times and the resulting petition led to revocation of the NCSBN contract and the subsequent development of Canada-centric RN exams that are in line with the challenges RNs face in Canada.
Secondly, Social media and networks offer nurses a forum to engage with colleagues. Engaging with colleagues improves patient outcomes and the quality of nursing care because nurses are able to compare best practices and create interdisciplinary healthcare teams to offer holistic care. According to Taylor (2013), networking in primary health care promotes social capital where a nurse can grow and develop professionally by being aware of the latest practices and evidence for use in nursing. Anderson & Puckrin (2011), assert that the forums through which nurses engage with colleagues on practical realities and their thoughts about their practices have gradually shifted from private face-to-face conversations to telephone and finally to social media. Engaging with colleagues in social media is important for student nurses and recent graduates who are looking for mentors in the specialty areas of their choice. Nurses can learn from engaging with colleagues and improve their skills, knowledge and attitudes. For instance, a nurse can learn about different cultures from nurses with a background in those cultures and this enables the nurse to feel more confident when providing care to patients from different cultures (Fraser, 2011). Patients benefit from nurses engaging with their colleagues, through improved quality of services, culturally acceptable care, and care from motivated nurses.
Thirdly, Social media and networking can also be used to advance nursing practice through community based health promotion initiatives. Barry & Hardiker (2012), assert that social media is an effective communication tool through which nurses can engage the community. For instance, nurses can manage public forums which focus on specific public health issues such as controlling obesity by encouraging physical activities and preventive diets (Nelmes, 2012). Using the social media to communicate and educate the community works best when nurses identify the community priorities, set goals, and find the best ways to meet these goals. Community inclusion in health care planning promotes community health by enabling communities to develop their own solutions to health challenges with nurses acting as guides and facilitators to implement the community interventions.
The opponents of nurses using social media and networks to promote nursing practice point to the ability to participate in social media under an alias or anonymously as a security threat. For instance, companies can easily promote their products under the alias of a respected nurse or amateurs offering misleading information to the public. Additionally, the social media can pose a challenge to health care organization administrators when nurses who are not authorized to speak on behalf of the organization make comments through social media. These challenges can be addressed by professionalism in nursing practice. Nurses need to follow professional standards set by their governing bodies. For instance, CNO standard (Confidentially and Privacy–Personal Health Information) prohibits nurses from leaking personal health information to the authorized individual without a client’s consent. Thereby, it protects client privacy and confidentially of personal health Information. Moreover, there are also federal and provincial legislations which protect security and integrity of the client’s information.
Social media and networks have emerged as a new tool for nurses to use in health promotion. The new channels provide nurses with a forum to engage with colleagues, educate and communicate with the patients, and lobby for better nursing environment. However, social media is subject to misuse. For the practice of nursing and society in general, the positives of social technologies outweigh the potential negatives. Nurses should be encouraged to use social media and social networks, perhaps with proper training. Nurses using social media to promote nursing practice should observe professionalism and act within the legal and ethical frameworks that govern the nursing practice.
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