Digital technology

Digital technologies and personal devices have become commonplace in our daily life. Practitioners in the healthcare sector have seen fit to integrate such tools in healthcare delivery in the form of electronic health record systems. The prevalence and importance of cellphones and social media networks in the lives of healthcare workers, on the other hand, cannot be denied. Almost everyone, even healthcare workers, carries a phone and would be tempted to utilize it in some way. Phones are an essential part of the life of nurses and doctors. It might be tempting to speak with a colleague via a personal device or phone rather than logging into a very new or complicated system. This poses several risks, not only for the patient, in terms of privacy and security, but also for the healthcare professional, in terms of ensuring undivided attention and highest quality of care.

In this paper, I will explore the use of personal devices and social media in healthcare environments and the moral, ethical, and legal issues that arise in their use. I will also explore the Health Insurance and Portability Act of 1996 guidelines regarding the use of electronic devices in healthcare settings. In addition, this paper will explore the potential advantages and disadvantages of using personal devices and social media in the course of healthcare delivery.

Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act Privacy Rules

There have been numerous cases where health care professionals have been disciplined for inappropriate use of social media to share private patient information. In one case, an employee of a hospital posted a tweet with her opinion, to the effect that a state governor had been given preferential treatment during a check-up. The employee was in turn suspended without pay on grounds of violating patient confidentiality (Cain, 2011).

According to the federal privacy rule outlined in the Health Insurance and Portability and Accountability Act (HIPAA), any communications regarding personally identifiable information on patients ought to be secure, and may only be shared with authorized parties. Moreover, access, whether in storage or in the course of transmission, should be strictly limited to authorized personnel (Cain, 2011).

Although “water cooler” conversations among professionals regarding experiences with patients may not draw as much scrutiny from the HIPAA regulations, it remains inappropriate and still violates the rules. However, holding such conversations in social media platforms poses greater risks for an organization. Social media applications often do not have the security levels envisioned under HIPAA and will expose private information to unsanctioned members of the public (Cain, 2011).

The risks associated with discussion of patient information on social media are not the only source of concern for healthcare organizations. Many healthcare organizations are determined to protect their proprietary business information, including their strategies, personnel data, and financial data (Cain, 2011). Use of personal phones to take pictures or share information in social media sites within healthcare settings may put such information at risk of landing in the wrong hands. In one study, it was reported that up to 20% of companies in the U.S. were investigating the exposure of sensitive, confidential, or private data through social media. In addition, the costs of pursuing such cases, not to mention the lawsuits that could arise out of such information breaches, could prove costly for the organizations affected (Cain, 2011).

Benefits and Demerits of Personal Device and Social Media Use in Healthcare Settings

Healthcare professionals could effectively use social media to network and communicate among colleagues on patient issues. Issues under discussion may range from, clinical topics, biostatistics, ethics, career strategies, to social life (Ventola, 2014). Consequently, social media and networking sites may support healthcare professionals in the course of their work. Social media, considering its communication capabilities, may also be used to enhance professional education in healthcare settings. Social media tools could be used to share critical information, to a wide audience, and to connect specialists with institutions that require their services and expertise, even in far-flung countries. Social media could enhance patient education and support public health programs. Patients could participate in research via social media, while public health programs could reach larger numbers of people, or several communities, within relatively shorter times (Ventola, 2014).

Although personal devices and social media may provide healthcare professionals with instant access to information, their presence and use in healthcare settings to obtain critical information may negatively affect quality of care. For instance, since a professional may have access to their phone and an internet connection all the time, they might not consider it critical to internalize certain concepts or information that is critical for patient care (Wallace, Clark, & White, 2012). Consequently, in case of an emergency or inaccessibility of a personal device with internet access, the individual may be unable confidently offer care. In a worst-case scenario, they may prescribe an inappropriate intervention because of “superficial learning” methods associated with having personal devices at their disposal all the time.

Another drawback of personal device use in healthcare settings, which potentially applies for other work environments, is decreased productivity. People have become hooked to social media and personal devices so much that they may get distracted at instances where their undivided attention is most critical. Constant alerts from a device and constant checking of updates could decrease the effectiveness and productivity of a healthcare professional (Gill, Kamath, & Gill, 2012).


Personal devices and social media have become ever-present features in our daily lives. They allow us to connect with family and friends instantly. Luckily, some of these tools have been integrated into healthcare settings to facilitate care delivery, mostly in the form of electronic health record systems. These technologies pose both risks and opportunities for healthcare delivery. If not used carefully within healthcare environments, private information may land in the wrong hands. On the other hand, if used appropriately, can facilitate delivery of care, and even minimize costs for healthcare institutions.

Securing personnel and patient information in healthcare environments requires a wide range of strategies at different levels. Institutions need to enforce regulations such as those outlined in HIPAA, and regularly train personnel on what constitutes effective use of social media and personal devices, where personnel and patient information is concerned. In addition, where the health institution provides devices, they should be secured to ensure that only authorized personnel can access them. Moreover, information transmission between devices and practitioners should be over secure networks.

Health care professionals ought to recognize that they have an obligation to safeguard patient information when they use social media. They should strictly refrain from sharing images or information obtained from interactions with patients. In addition, it is critical to respect patients and co-workers and not refer to them in a disparaging manner, whether verbally, or in social media networks.


Cain, J. (2011). Social media in health care: the case for organizational policy and employee education. American Journal of Health-System Pharmacy, 68, 1036-1040.

Gill, P. S., Kamath, A., & Gill, T. S. (2012). Distraction: An Assessment of Smartphone Usage in Health Care Work Settings. Risk Management and Healthcare Policy, 105-114.

Ventola, C. L. (2014). Social Media and Health Care Professionals: Benefits, Risks and Best Practices. Pharmacy and Therapeutics, 39(7), 491-499.

Wallace, S., Clark, M., & White, J. (2012). 'It's on my iPhone': Attitudes to the Use of Mobile Computing Devices in Medical Education, a Mixed Methods Study. BMJ Open.

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