Friday, September 7, 2012

AHPRA's draft social media policy: sensible advice or attack on freedom of speech?

The Australian Health Practitioner Regulation Agency (AHPRA) is responsible for the regulation of nursing and midwifery in Australia, amongst other professions. AHPRA has just called for feedback on a draft policy for the use of social media in healthcare. The draft policy has been taken off the AHPRA website but can be found here:

I am in the throes of preparing a response, as a practitioner who successfully (or so I think) uses social media, and has learned a few lessons along the way.

Let me say right from the start....I welcome all comments and advice about using social media with respect, and following all rules and regulations about patient privacy and confidentiality. I am also delighted to see that APHRA has acknowledged the rise of social media.  I am also making these comments as an individual - they do not necessarily represent the views of the Australian College of Midwives.

My initial reaction to this draft policy is the underlying premise is that social media is a very risky activity for health professionals to engage with, and demonstrates a lack of understanding of how social media can be used - to increase communication, collaboration, transparency, sharing, research, education and community engagement. There is a lack of understanding of how consumers want health practitioners to engage with them.

The draft policy ignores the fact that social media is so much a part of life now. Instead of educating practitioners to use it professionally and effectively, it is taking a punitive approach. This will not work because social media is so embedded in what we do, and it is impossible to tease out our private use from the public use. It will also be impossible to police.

One of my main recommendations is to turn this policy on its head, and take the opportunity to educate practitioners in a positive way, using guidelines. I have always appreciated the UK NMC's guidelines - they offer practical advice, yet recognise the benefits of social media. Another recommendation will be for AHPRA to work with practitioners and consumers who are currently working effectively and professionally with social media, in order to educate themselves, as well as pick their brains about the issues.

For other views, see Impacted Nurse, writing "New AHPRA social media policy: we may be in big trouble here", and the comments that come after this post by Croakey, "Is AHPRA on the right track re social media use by health professionals? A chance to let them know your views…"

Please let me know what you think?
  • Is AHPRA uninformed about social media, or is it right to be so concerned about practitioners' use of SM? 
  • Is AHPRA unrealistic in its expectations, or has it completely missed the point of social media?
  • Is AHPRA attacking freedom of speech and our ability to advocate and discuss healthcare practice in public, or is it right to suggest we should not wash our dirty laundry for all to see?
  • Will the policy be a supportive measure, or drive practitioners use of social media "under-ground"?
I'd love to hear your views. Or, contact AHPRA directly: by the 14th September - public consultation will occur in October/November.

Image: '50 Social Media Icons'
Found on


AliT said...

We work in a system premised by risk - would be wonderful to demonstrate that not engaging in social media carries more risk. Ali

Anonymous said...

Yet more regulation of midwives! Can someone remind me of any benefits to being registered as a midwife if you don't want to work for an institution? Without registration you are free to provide care to women without external restrictions and expensive/pointless insurance... and free to use your social media as you wish.
I do think there are some ethical issues surrounding midwives sharing women's images and stories via social media (without consent)... but this is an issue between women and their midwives.
Sarah - I hope you can fight this one. I am just totally over AHPRA and the direction midwifery is heading in.

Anonymous said...

Don't know what all the fuss is about. It's nothing new.

In summary: Don't do anything online that you wouldn't do in person. Don't breach privacy/confidentiality. Don't bitch about patients...even if you've de-identified them. Don't make false/misleading claims (advertising). Simple!

Leigh Blackall said...

dunno if you/they include wikipedia as social media, but thought it would be of interest.

Sarah Stewart said...

Hello everyone, thank you all for your comments. I think the "storm" caused by this draft policy will ensure the next version will look very different than the current one.

Ali: what we really need is some decent empirical evidence about the "risk" of social media. But...having said there any research looking at the "risk" of face-to-face communication to professional standards etc?

MidwifeThinking: I think it is clear that AHPRA needs to move from a "policy" approach to a guidelines approach in which practical, balanced advice is given to practitioners. Bottom line...there is no way they can police the policy as it is.

Anonymous: you're absolutely right. Let's keep things simple...but please don't dictate to me who I can and cannot be "friends" with!

Leigh: Thanks...

Annie Barnes said...

The problem seems in part, to the policy being drafted by those in a different generation than those who will be expected to live by it!
My daughters friends are not going to go to the phone book when they need a midwife they will put a post on Facebook! (or they will ask me on Facebook!)
Also, what about people who live in communities? I have been a midwife at the birth of one of my FB friends. Also I have been on shift when one of my other friends came in. She was not on FB at that stage, but I could be breeching rules when she joins FB in the future under these guidelines.
Social media is the communication of the future. Sadly, in some ways, our young people will talk to people on social media much more readily than they will drop in to see someone. Life is changing AHPRA!

Anonymous said...

Quite simply, it's sensible advice. Your not an Australian midwife, your very new, and you have a lot to learn.

Sarah Stewart said...

Hello Annie, I agree with you, but in order to be proactive...what would you include in guidelines if you were AHPRA?

Anonymous: Actually, I am an Australian midwife, but that's beside the point. What would you add as constructive advice to social media guidelines, if you were in charge of developing them?

Joy Johnston said...

It seems to me that AHPRA has a plan to develop policies on every little aspect of life.
The brief response submitted to AHPRA by Australian Private Midwives Association (APMA) stated:
"We encourage the consultants to report on positive aspects of social media, as well as the regulation of what may be negative potential. As midwives we believe it is in the public interest to present factual, evidence supported arguments on social media sites that can be freely accessed. We value the midwife’s duty of care in health promotion, and the education of the public in the protection, promotion and support of physiological processes in pregnancy, childbirth and breastfeeding."

Sarah Stewart said...

Hi Joy, one urgent job that is facing me as professional development officer for the ACMI is to put together social media guidelines...hopefully, to pre-empt AHPRA. I would warmly welcome any suggestions or feedback from you...once I get my act together!!