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Is it a violation to post a Facebook picture of a nursing home resident?

Wednesday September 18, 2013
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Dear Nancy,

Is it a violation to post a Facebook picture of a nursing home resident?


Nancy Brent replies:

Dear Ava,

The subject of posting patient pictures on any social media website has been the subject of several responses in this column in the past so you may want to review those for additional points not made here, such as: (www.Nurse.com/Brent/Facebook-termination).

Based on your question, however, doing what you describe in your question would be a violation of many principles and laws that apply to patient privacy and confidentiality.

Initially, remember that a patient's health information is confidential and private, and this was the case long before HIPAA came along. So, the only way one could post a picture of a nursing home resident on Facebook (your page, it is assumed) is with the resident's informed consent to do so provided no prohibition exists in your facility's policies about such a posting.

Your facility should have a policy about social media and patient privacy. It most probably states that photos of residents are prohibited and certainly prohibited from being posted on a social website like Facebook. The policy should also state what discipline will take place if this principle is violated.

HIPAA is another law to consider when posting anything, including a picture, on Facebook, that is personal health information. Without the patient's informed consent, a violation clearly occurs.

Last, but by no means least, violations of the Code of Ethics for Nurses (ANA 2001) cannot be ignored. If you have not reviewed the Code, it would be helpful for you to do so. Specific provisions that are violated by posting a resident or patient picture include Provision 1 (respect for human dignity, relationships with patients) and Provision 3 (privacy and confidentiality). You might also find helpful another ANA publication, “Principles for Social Networking and the Nurse: Guidance for Registered Nurses” (2011).

The National Council of State Boards of Nursing's “White Paper: A Nurses Guide to the Use of Social Media” (2011) lists the possible legal ramifications a nurse faces when social media is used inappropriately with patients and their care.


Nancy J. Brent, RN, MS, JD, is an attorney in private practice in Wilmette, Ill. This information is for educational purposes only and is not intended as legal or any other advice. The reader is encouraged to seek the advice of an attorney or other professional when an opinion is needed.