It's finally happened. I've now twice met patients through work who I didn't know before but do now because of social media (one Twitter, one Facebook---someone else's Facebook account, obviously). One recognized me from Facebook photos, and the other one follows me on Twitter because she's active in local social media and put two and two together through convoluted means involving mutual friends. As it turns out, social media geeks are ultimately technologically incestuous. One posted on one platform about how she'd met me and I was a good nurse. The other one, sort of a patient-once-removed, I tracked down via Foursquare (this gets weirder, doesn't it? But she checked in across the street from where I was, and it was a tweetup) because I wanted to ask her opinion about receiving health care from nurses she knows from Twitter (she had been following me on Twitter for a long time so I finally had followed her back a few weeks before: it's highly unlikely I'll ever be her nurse, so I felt ethical about it). She said overall she felt it improved her care by personalizing it. Good to know.
The only concern she could come up with on the spot was if, hypothetically, I tweeted I was tired or ill before work and then she became my patient knowing this, because she would wonder if I was up to the job: oddly enough, it was the first time I'd ever heard of this angle. It makes sense. (Yes, I disillusioned her by telling her that MOST nurses are tired when they go to work.) I don't think I'll stop tweeting that I'm tired, but the angle is important to consider.
These situations make me feel odd. Obviously people who read my blog or follow me on Twitter know I'm a nurse. People on Facebook know I'm a nurse because they know me personally. My town isn't that big. It had to happen at some point that I'd cross paths with someone who knew me from somewhere online. I scrupulously maintained patient privacy. One patient did post specifically about her experience with me, but I can't really do anything about that; it's her privacy to do with as she wishes. So I'm not sure why I feel a bit odd about it. It really did appear to improve their experiences to have a previous connection, however tenuous, with their nurses.
It might be different if I worked somewhere other than the ER, where encounters are transient, or if I ever posted about specific patients (I'll trot out again my statement that even if it seems that way, I'm not, except in this post, which I'm sending to the people involved for their approval). I hope someone is studying this, because there is a lot of focus on social media's effects on the providers and not much on its effects on the patients, who are supposed to be the focus of our profession.