Social Media and Nursing: How and Why Nurses Need to Use It to Inform

As the world continues to mourn the massacre in New Zealand that killed 50 people and injured more, Facebook, Twitter and YouTube have responded by removing videos livestreamed by the shooter using a body camera as he was firing his weapon on worshiping people.

This was not the first time a violent crime was broadcast live, and perhaps it will not be the last time users employ social media to amplify violence and hatred.

There is of course a flip side, as social media can be a beneficial tool for those of us in the health care community, particularly nurses, using social media platforms to inform, connect and educate about the profession.

Slack, WhatsApp, Facebook and other social media aided in the rescue of thousands of Indian citizens last summer during the Kerala floods by mobilizing relief efforts digitally. Charitable organizations such as World Vision regularly use social media to identify the most vulnerable communities and provide immediate needs.

The use of WhatsApp in disaster relief is ongoing, as in 2016, when researchers in India found that WhatsApp chat logs gave valuable insights to volunteers and stakeholders about where needs existed in a specific region and gaps that existed in the distribution of resources — ultimately allowing volunteers and key stakeholders to make real-time informed decisions.

Billions globally access social media regularly, with the exact staggering number shifting regularly. Nine billion are active monthly YouTube users, with more than 30 million people on the platform daily. Facebook has 2.32 billion users worldwide as of December 31, 2018. Instagram has 1 billion users, and Twitter has more than 326 million monthly active users. More than 250 million people use Pinterest every month, and Snapchat has more than 300 million active monthly users.

According to a recent Pew Research survey of social media use by U.S. adults in 2018, YouTube and Facebook are used by a majority of U.S. adults. About two-thirds of U.S. adults (68 percent) use Facebook. The video sharing site YouTube is now used by nearly three-quarters of U.S. adults and 94 percent of 18- to 24-year-olds. Younger Americans (ages 18-24) use a variety of platforms, with 78 percent on Snapchat, 71 percent using Instagram and about 45 percent using Twitter.

Nurses have been using social media to follow health care issues and topics.  

According to James Gillespie of the Center for Healthcare Innovation, writing recently with closerlook inc. founder and Chief ExecutiveDavid Ormesher in Clinical Leader, health care providers can use social media to partner with patients, families and communities to effectively meet the needs of patients. The voice of the patient must be heard in order to provide patient-centered care.

Social media data can amplify the patient’s voice. Online support groups enable patients to share experiences, encourage caregivers and allow us to hear concerns of patients.

To be sure, “techlash,” defined as backlash against technology, has reached the health care industry.  

According to Barron’s, the CEO of a home health organization in Anchorage, Alaska, received the MacArthur Foundation’s “genius” grant for transforming a medical bureaucracy into a patient-centered health service, allowing physicians and nurses the ability to make autonomous decisions and not to rely so highly on software systems at the expense of autonomy and flexibility.

Pharma is using social media platforms to market pharma content, leveraging social media tools to widen their customer base, enhance brand performance and increase product sales.

Nurses need to use their voice to counteract the pharma presence. People trust nurses; it was rated as the most trusted profession in 2017 in a Gallup poll. Part of the nurse’s role is to educate the patient on medication use, side effects and the importance of adherence to the regimen.

The recent Healthcare Social Media Summit from PR News bore the tagline, “The future of healthcare communications is social.” Speakers from The Mayo Clinic, Johns Hopkins Medicine, Aetna, state health departments and more discussed how social media can manage a health care organization’s reputation and capture the attention of patients and consumers.

The Facebook page of the American Nurses Association’s government affairs, registered nurses action page helps nurses stay on top of regulatory and legislative issues. Healthy Nurse/Healthy Nation allows nurses to connect with fellow nurses to create and maintain a balance of physical, emotional, spiritual, personal and professional well-being.

On Twitter, @ananurses shares achievements of the nursing community. Nurses across the world share updates in #NursingNow. In LinkedIn, the American Nurses Association Group allows nurses to connect with fellow ANA members.

The American Nurses Association has a position statement regarding social media, specifically social networking, called the ANA Principles. The principles of social networking forbid transmitting individual identifiable information and instruct nurses to maintain nursing professional boundaries online similar to the nursing professional boundaries in-person.

As a nurse leader, I use social media sites to follow health care topics, find online resources for clinical information and share ideas with other nurses.

Social media as a daily part of our lives can be informative, entertaining and has the potential of helping a nurse’s career and nursing profession. We can exchange ideas and discuss health issues within communities and a broader public. Of course, our foremost responsibility is to patients and their privacy.

To share or not to share is a decision each nursing professional needs to make, and he or she must always err on the side of caution. But the stakes are high, and the benefits can be global.  


Aney Abraham, RN, DNP, is the associate vice president of nursing operations at Rush University Medical Center, an associate professor at Rush University College of Nursing and a public voices fellow through The OpEd Project.

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