- What do you do when one of your clients stalks you on Facebook?
- Or, what if someone you conversed with in a blog discussion reposts your comments out of context and in an unprofessional light?
- What happens if another professional dealing with a crisis texts you requesting you reply with sensitive client information you know is protected by HIPAA?
These are just a few of the complex questions that face healthcare professionals more and more frequently. According to the 2011 UNC -School of Social Work Field Education Program Manual (SSW-FEPM), social work students and professionals are bound to adhere to the NASW Code of Ethics in their professional and personal lives. As stated in the SSW-FEPM, “We must be cognizant that the legal, ethical and clinical responsibilities we have as professionals does not cease when we leave the agency nor is it confined to the physical setting of an office”. Nowhere are these boundaries more in a constant state of flux than when using social media. With every new iteration of social networking sites like Facebook, LinkedIn or Twitter; with each new cell phone upgrade; or with any installation of a new software application the corresponding privacy settings and protocols evolve as well. According to the NASW Code of Ethics, (2008), regardless of what the social media developers and promoters might suggest is appropriate, ultimately it is the responsibility of the social work professional to adhere to this code (Section 1.06) and take all necessary precautions to avoid conflicts of interest, set and maintain appropriate professional limits, and avoid dual relationships which have the potential to blur boundaries between themselves, their clients, their agency and their co-workers. While these might not seem to be safety issues at first, failuer to manage social media relationships and maintain appropriate security, privacy and confidentiality settings, puts social work professionals, their clients and their employers at risk for intrusion and infringement of their rights (Section 1.07).
In their timely article on professionalism and online social networking, Guseh, Brendel, and Brendel (2009), point out that today’s health professionals mush also be vigilant when utilizing learning forums, online mentoring, and blogs that discuss and disseminate sensitive information. Conducting business and conversations under the assumption that others understand, maintain, and practice appropriate safety and propriety precautions can lead to a serious compromise of the privacy and confidentiality of all involved parties and the implications can be global.
Online networking, learning and enterprise are growing more popular each year and expected to continue be the primary way of interacting personally and professionally the future. With the rapid evolution of technology, the implications for safeguarding the privacy and dignity of social work and mental and behavioral health professionals, as well as those they serve, will demand constant vigilance.
Code of Ethics of the National Association of Social Workers (2008) Retrieved from http://www.socialworkers.org/pubs/code/code.asp
Guseh J.S., II, Brendel R. W., & Brendel D. H. (2009). Medical professionalism in the age of social networking. Journal of Medical Ethics, 35, 584–586. doi: 10.1136/jme.2009.029231
UNC School of Social Work Field Education Program Manual (2011) Retrieved from http://ssw.unc.edu/programs/masters/fieldeducation