Does The Patient Want To Be Featured On Social Media? – By Jennifer L. FitzPatrick

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Have you observed the latest trend on social media?  It’s not a new meme or hashtag.  It’s the phenomenon of people posting about loved ones who are ill or even dying.  I certainly understand why it’s happening.  It probably seems like the easiest way to keep everyone in your friends and family network in the loop.  But have those who post considered whether or not the patient wants to be featured on social media?

In the last six months I have observed the following:

  1. Selfies of family members at a hospice patient’s bedside posing with a person who appears to be sleeping or at least half-asleep.
  2. Videos of patients who have dementia, are recovering from strokes, and/or doing rehab exercises.
  3. Lengthy, personal updates about a patient’s health that are several paragraphs long.  Some of these posts include detailed information on diagnosis, medications, surgeries, and prognosis.  Many of these updates feature graphic descriptions of symptoms the patient is experiencing.

Perhaps these patients are well aware that their health progress will be featured on social media.  Or maybe the family members believe there is implied consent for posting.  After all, Millennial and Generation Z patients may very well assume that such photos or videos of themselves will be uploaded straight to Facebook, Instagram, Twitter or even Snapchat.  But the vast majority of photographs and videos I am seeing in hospital or nursing home settings are of Baby Boomers and Traditionalist who may not realize their health status is being shared.

What can we do?

Family member & friends:  If you want to post about a sick or dying loved one, ask if he or she is okay with it.  While many family members will understand if you send out an e-mail or update a private page like so close relatives are in the know, many may object to broad-based updates to all of your extensive network of contacts (and their contacts, depending on your privacy settings).

Also, consider the last time you took a sick day.  Would you welcome the prospect of someone posting a picture or video of you?

Healthcare professionals:  If you observe this behavior, remind family caregivers that they should seek the loved one’s permission before sharing.  Talk to them about HIPPA, confidentiality, as well as respecting the dignity of their loved ones.  Suggest that they consider more private ways to share information such as

Jennifer L. FitzPatrick – MSW, LCSW-C, CSP
The founder of Jenerations Health Education, Inc., Jennifer FitzPatrick has over 20 years’ experience in healthcare and gerontology. The author of Cruising Through Caregiving: Reducing The Stress of Caring For Your Loved One, she is also a gerontology instructor at Johns Hopkins University and an Education Consultant to the Alzheimer’s Association. She helps you reduce stress and increase productivity, morale and revenue. Jennifer and Cruising Through Caregiving have been featured in Forbes, U.S. News & World Report, The Huffington Post, Reader’s Digest, Univision and The Chicago Tribune. She has also appeared on ABC and Sirius XM.

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