Despite advances in technology being a driver of paramedic professional development, particularly over the past decade, the introduction of new forms of technology appears to have presented paramedics with some professional challenges. Paramedics, pre-hospital clinicians, and ambulance service providers in both the United Kingdom and Australia, have begun using social media technology to communicate what they do to the general public. Unfortunately some of the material that has been communicated appears to breach professional standards of practice, and therefore has the potential to cause harm to the patient, the individual paramedic, and the paramedic profession more broadly. This article will present the rationale behind why this behaviour is unprofessional, ethically and legally unsound, and why it must cease. We offer a tool that will assist paramedics, and other healthcare professionals, to practise safe and professional social media use in their workplace.The authors state
As registered health professionals, paramedics in the United Kingdom are required to conduct themselves in a manner that aligns with their professional code of conduct (Health and Care Professions Council, 2016). This code speci es ethical and legal standards, which must be upheld in paramedic practice. These codes sit alongside various other legal and policy instruments that regulate paramedic practice such as the Health and Social Work Professions Order 2001 (UK Parliament, 2001); HCPC Standards of Pro ciency (Health and Care Professions Council, 2014), and local social media policies (London Ambulance Service, 2013).
Together these regulations provide guidance for practitioners about how to practise as a professional, and thus provide competent and safe care that maintains the protection of the patient, the individual paramedic, and the paramedic profession more broadly. However, recent examples have demonstrated that some paramedics appear to be unclear about how to professionally engage the use of social media in their practice and in so doing put patients, themselves, and the profession more broadly at risk.
Healthcare professionals are among many communities to have embraced the power of social media as a medium for rapid communication, learning, and establishing relationships both within peer groups and with the broader public. There is a well-established evidence to support the use of social media as a powerful peer-to-peer tool for education. For example, in Free Open Access Medical Education (FOAM) groups (Casey and Wells, 2015), as well as the use of social media platforms by public agencies to communicate and disseminate information to the pubic during a crisis (Palenchar and Freberg, 2013). It can also be used effectively to engage the wider community in both broad and speci c public health promotion programmes (Gold et al, 2012). Indeed ‘live tweeting’ — the contemporaneous sharing on Twitter of an event within a short time of its occurrence — has been validated in its usefulness during emergencies, educational activities, and public events. Recent terrorist events and public disasters have demonstrated the value of live-tweeting as a tool for multi-directional crisis communication (Simon et al, 2014; Eriksson and Olsson, 2016).
Despite its demonstrated usefulness in these discrete areas, there are limits to the ways in which social media, including ‘live tweeting’ can be used by health practitioners. The most worrisome example is the misuse of this technology to inappropriately publicly publish individual patient information.