HIPAA Violations: How to Handle a Hard Day Without Telling Facebook

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By Katie Bugbee

December 8, 2020

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How to Handle a Hard Day Without Telling Facebook

You argued with a patient’s family. Another patient passed away. Your team isn’t in sync. As a travel nurse on the unit, you are looked down on or mistreated. Paperwork is piling up. Work feels insane right now. Where can you vent?

Well, not on social media.

Facebook, Instagram, and TikTok seem like natural places to voice some frustration. You can easily imagine the urge to post an Instagram photo of your chart pile with a funny (yet frustrated) facial expression and get a ton of empathy. But giving in to that urge could put you at serious risk of violating your patients’ privacy and, in turn, the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act (HIPAA). (Just imagine someone zooming into your photo and being able to make out a patient’s name!)

Don’t get us wrong: we know that social media plays a big role in our lives nowadays. We all have at least one social media channel that we use regularly, and we have a right to share photos of our last vacation or our cute new puppy on those personal accounts. That’s fine! However, as a healthcare professional, it goes without saying that you have to be particularly careful about what you post when the content veers into your work life. The minute you start using social media as a forum to discuss anything regarding your patients or their care (including venting about said patients) or as a way to interact with them for non-work-related reasons, you’re flinging yourself into dangerous HIPAA-violation territory.

You’re probably already well-versed on HIPAA but given how important this topic is (and how relevant it is to your career), it’s worth going through a little high-level refresher.

HIPAA Violations & Social Media

We’ll start with the basics: what is a HIPAA violation? Typically, a HIPAA violation involves the use or disclosure of an individual’s protected health information without their permission. So, what does this look like in the context of social media? We asked Diane Evans, publisher of MyHIPAAGuide.com, to share the most common types of HIPAA violations healthcare professionals commit on social media. They usually involve:

  1. Sharing photos of patients with friends: Sharing patient information of any kind with unauthorized individuals is a direct violation of HIPAA. You just can’t do it. Period. End of story.
  2. Adding patients as friends or liking their posts on social media: By interacting with your patients outside of work, you run the risk of someone drawing a connection between you two and making a guess that that individual sees a particular doctor or goes to a specific healthcare organization. You didn’t mean to, but you could have revealed the patient’s private information to unauthorized people.
  3. Posting images, text, and videos of patients without their consent: Think: testimonials you may get from your patients. Unless they give you their (written) permission to use their likeness or quotes, you absolutely cannot make them public or distribute them in any way.

These types of HIPAA violations can lead to fines, sanctions, and potentially even the revocation of your license to practice. If the breaches are severe enough, you could even face jail time.

4 Stress-Relieving Tips for Nurses That Don’t Involve Social Media

Your job — and the stress it creates — are no laughing matter. You’re an essential worker, and the constant pressure you’re working under can be extreme. But while social media can help you get through a day, the real underlying causes of your stress need to be tackled ASAP. If not, you run the risk of suffering severe consequences, not the least of which are serious health issues, burnout, and potentially putting yourself in a situation that could threaten your career. Here are four stress-management strategies to start implementing today that will help keep you far away from that “Publish” button the next time you feel like venting.

Identify what’s triggering your anxiety.

You’ve been trained to push through stressful situations, but sometimes they can get the best of you. Make note of your feelings when you get anxious or upset and try to name them as they appear: you can say something like, “This friend always makes me feel really anxious” or “Reading the news doesn’t make me feel relaxed at all.” Sometimes, you’ll be able to limit your exposure to these stressors (e.g., a toxic friend, stressful news); other times, you might not be able to do that – particularly if they happen at work. In those instances, you’ll want to develop coping strategies that you can use in the moment to lessen their effect on you (more on this in a bit).

Also, beware of compassion fatigue. If your empathy for those around you is getting to a breaking point, remember that you can always say something like, “I’m sorry, but I can’t hear this right now. I need to focus on my patients without getting too overwhelmed.”

Strengthen your resiliency.

As a nurse, you’re nothing if not resilient. That said, you’ll be better able to handle stressful situations if your physical and emotional health are in good shape. You can do this by:

  • Making sure you’re getting enough quality sleep.
  • Maintaining a healthy diet
  • Hydrating
  • Exercising regularly
  • Staying connected with your support systems

Develop coping strategies you can use in the moment.

Here are some simple strategies you can try whenever you start to feel your stress levels rise (or, even better: try coming up with some of your own that you know work for you!):

Try doing some deep-breathing exercises.

These don’t need to be long or involved – play around with the length of your inhales and exhales until you find a cadence that helps slow you down.

Talk to a colleague.

Don’t be afraid to lean on your colleagues for support – you’re all going through similar things so you’re in the best position to help each other through it.

Focus on something positive.

It doesn’t have to be big – it could be as simple as remembering when a coworker thanked you for helping them or knowing that there’s a new episode of your favorite TV show waiting for you when you get home.

Treat yourself with kindness.

Watch out for negative self-talk; when you hear yourself going that route, think: “Would I talk to my best friend this way?” You could also try repeating a comforting or reassuring statement, such as, “I’m doing the best that I can right now.”

Take breaks.

This can be tough, especially if your team’s short-handed or you’re overwhelmed with things to do, but it’s absolutely crucial for your own mental health that you take breaks when and where you can. If you feel like it’s too hard to do, talk to your manager and see if they can help you find a way to build breaks into your schedule.

Talk to your manager(s) or Recruiter

Working toward change is always a great way to tackle the ongoing administrative issues that irritate you. When you do, make sure to communicate your suggestions in a positive and constructive way. Encourage your leadership to be proactive about protecting the staff from issues that might affect their mental health.

We hope you found this article and the information on HIPAA violations and how to avoid them online. As travel nurses, it can be difficult to find a means to vent about bad days. It can also be hard to know where to turn when you are constantly changing hospitals, assignments, or facilities. Do you have any advice for fellow gypsy travel nurses on ways to vent while avoiding HIPAA violations? Comment any tips on avoiding HIPAA violations below.

If you are a new travel nurse or looking into becoming a travel nurse:

Travel Nurse Guide: Step-by-Step (now offered in a PDF Downloadable version!)

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