These five case studies demonstrate the positive and negative effects social media use can have on registrant’s practice.
The examples show how positive social media use can aid in connecting with colleagues and the public, and how negative social media use can cause issues in places of work and beyond.
Social media case studies
Kathy is a social worker, working in a local authority, and has recently trained as a best interests assessor. This role means she needs to keep up-to-date with legal requirements and Government policy and as a result Kathy regularly has to attend training sessions to retain her qualification.
During these training sessions, Kathy gets to meet other best interests assessors working across the country. Many of these assessors come from different professional and employment backgrounds, including occupational therapists and nurses working in the NHS and social workers working for care providers. Kathy has found meeting professionals from a wide range of backgrounds really useful, as it has helped her to gain a new perspective on some of the aspects of her role and exchange information about best practice and other work matters.
Kathy is one of only a small team of best interests assessors in her local authority. As a result she does not always have other professionals to discuss her work, so she is keen to keep these professional contacts. Kathy has recently made friends on Facebook with several of the best interests assessors she met at training events. She is hoping to use Facebook to network with them and continue to share skills and knowledge about her role. However as her profile contains lots of information about her personal life, she doesn’t think it’s appropriate to use this in her professional life.
In order to replicate the environment at her training session, Kathy decides to create a private Facebook discussion group with her best interests assessor friends on Facebook. In this group they share updates about their practice, discuss best practice and share professional contacts. The privacy settings on the group mean that she can discuss work freely without this crossing into her personal life, or impeding on the sensitive nature of her work. She is still mindful of the confidentiality of her service users though, and doesn’t share identifiable information or facts when referring to her personal experiences. She also keeps her interactions on social media to the same professional tone she would usually use at a professional training or networking event. In addition, Kathy makes sure to check any information she receives on the group with reputable sources before applying it to her practice.
As a result of social media, Kathy has been able to develop her professional skills and knowledge and also build a network of professional contacts to help her in her future work.
Simon is a dietitian. He has recently been considering new ways of engaging with his service users and members of the public. He is particularly keen on using social media to improve his outreach and engage with groups he wouldn’t have traditionally reached through his practice.
Simon already uses social media in a personal capacity, but is keen to keep a professional divide between his personal life and his service users. He decides to create a Twitter account, under a user name that reflects his professional title. He uses this account to follow and interact with other nutrition professionals. He posts general information relating to his practice, targeting areas of interest to his service users. This includes facts and ‘myth busters’ relating to nutrition, tools to assist his service users such as recipes and generalised advice, advertising relating to his areas of practice, and sharing articles relating to new research and best practices of interest to him.
Simon includes his Twitter handle in his email signature, so his service users are able to follow him if they want to. His service users can also contact him in informal ‘Twitter chats’. He doesn’t discuss anything to do with his service users’ care and treatment, but encourages service users and members of the public to approach him via social media where they have general questions about his areas of practice.
Simon has found both he and his service users benefit from his use of social media as service users, and wider members of the public, are able to grasp a better understanding of his role as a dietician and the services he can offer, and the interaction can improve his professional relationships. He is also able to build up knowledge of current practice issues and network with his profession globally.
Dipak is an occupational therapist. He has recently started co-ordinating a campaign with his employer to promote the profession to the public; to encourage more people to the role and to inform members of the public about what an occupational therapist will be able to do for them. Dipak is keen to use social media as part of this campaign, including using blogging and sites such as YouTube to share experiences and demonstrate in interactive ways what members of the profession will traditionally do as part of their role.
Dipak has been blogging in his personal life for several years. The blog combines his own thoughts on practice issues, anecdotes from his practice, difficulties he has encountered from working as an occupational therapist and his views on developments to the profession. He frequently refers to particular cases he has worked on, but always keeps these anonymised and changes certain facts to make sure service users cannot be identified. He believes the blog will be a good tool to give a realistic picture of the challenges and rewards of being an occupational therapist.
Dipak co-ordinates the campaign’s social media accounts and uses these to share key materials. This includes participating in ‘Twitter chats’ and sharing positive stories and articles about his practice. He does not share confidential information but does share more generally information about his experiences – this spreads awareness of what he does and improves the image of the profession. On YouTube, Dipak and his employer create short pieces to camera which respond to questions about the occupational therapist profession and provide examples of an average day in the life of an occupational therapist. Patients are not included in these pieces, with Dipak editing the interviews to remove any confidential or identifiable information.
Through use of these more interactive tools, Dipak’s employers find the campaign gains more traction than it otherwise would have and reaches a wider range of people. Dipak also finds his close friends and family have a greater understanding of his role.
Farah is a clinical psychologist. She is currently not on good terms with a number of members of her place of work and has been complaining about this to her close family and friends on social media. This has included posting inappropriate comments about her colleagues. Her posts do not attempt to hide who she or her colleagues are, and makes direct references to her employer. The posts make her frustrations plain, and at times use derogatory and abusive language about her colleagues.
Her social media profile is publically available, as are the comments she has made about those at her place of work. In addition a number of her colleagues have mutual connections on social media, so it is easy for them to access the posts. One colleague has seen some of Farah’s posts, and has approached her directly about this on social media. Farah has responded by tagging the colleague in her posts and using derogatory language about her.
The colleague refers the matter to their manager. The colleague has since received complaints from some of her service users, who have searched her name online and found Farah’s posts. She is concerned that as a result of the posts she has lost the trust of her service users. Farah asserts that this is a personal matter and unrelated to their work. However the manager considers this a disciplinary matter, and follows this up with a full investigation. The matter is also referred to HCPC, which leads to a fitness to practise investigation.
Desmond is a radiographer. He has recently started using Facebook whilst at work. Primarily he has been posting photos of himself and his colleagues on duty in a clinical setting, but in some instances he has posted about particular patient injuries and occasionally shared photos of their x-rays. These posts do not show the face of the patient but there is otherwise no attempt to hide their identity. A number of the posts contain confidential patient information, despite this not being the focus of the images. Typically this is in the background of the photo, but sometimes includes their names and / or date of birth. His posts are also geo-tagged, meaning they identify the location in which they were taken (in this instance the hospital in which Desmond works).
Desmond believes he is only sharing these images with his friends on Facebook, and does not believe they pose a risk to his patients’ confidentiality. However Desmond’s Facebook privacy settings are set to public, meaning all his posts are publically available. Therefore a member of the public who sees a post and is aware of a patient being treated at Desmond’s place of work could identify the patient from his posts.
Eventually a mutual friend of Desmond’s – Ben - sees one of Desmond’s posts of an x-ray and believes that this might be of one of his co-workers. Ben tags this co-worker in a comment, asking if the x-ray is his. The co-worker sees the post is of him, and considers this to be a breach of his confidentiality. The nature of the injury was something he wanted to keep private, and instead had been now seen by a number of his colleagues. He makes a formal complaint to HCPC.
Despite no intention on Desmond’s part to breach patient confidentiality, HCPC are concerned about the inappropriate nature of his posts and open an investigation.