Are we tough enough?

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Clay Adams | October 23rd, 2014

Like everyone, there are things in life I wish I had done and things I wish I hadn’t. Case in point: I wish I had not done that perm the missus talked me into years ago! There was a Rogue Maple Bacon Ale  that I wish I had not tried to drink, and I regret too many things I did on too many nights as a single guy in Melbourne. 

I wish I’d taken more photos of the amazing things I saw scuba diving around the world (alas, I sucked at underwater photography) or that I climbed Uluru (although my decision not to climb it was based on respect to the Anangu people rather than it being an arduous and freakin’ scary adventure, cough, cough). I wish I’d stayed more active and been drawn more to spinach than to scotch.

Thankfully, I grew up in an age when most mistakes happened with a limited audience watching and rarely came to bite you in the ass. Big brother was, literally, just your big brother and the lasting impact of “social media” was the hangover from a night of boozing with your mates.

It’s a different world

Today, alas, is a different world. We make mistakes and word spreads faster than Ben Johnson on steroids. Because of social media mistakes won’t go away and, like going to the bathroom at Oscar Pistorius’ house, can have dangerous consequences.

The danger of social media like Facebook, Twitter, Instagram and others is their prevalence. They are easy to use, readily accessible by dumb users via smart phones and available to people you don’t know, won’t know and probably won’t want to know.

If you asked someone if they wanted to share something stupid about their life most would say “no way.” And yet, every time they post a photo of a boozy night out on Facebook, that bikini/budgie holder beach photo or share opinions of their day at work, they don’t just do it with the family at home or friends at the bar. They do it with everyone. And it stays online. Potentially forever.

VCH policy

Thankfully, VCH has a Social Media Policy and we as employees sign a Confidentiality/Privacy Agreement to prevent violations. But before we get too cocky and point fingers at others, grab a mirror. VCH employees are as guilty as anyone of careless online behaviour.

In 2012, we terminated an employee for breaching the privacy of five media personalities who received care from us. More recently details surfaced of a group of clinical staff who went online to share negative comments about a patient in their care. Were they frustrated by the patient for whatever reason? Probably. Is sharing opinions and war stories of patients and families unusual in the fast-paced, high-stress world of health care? No. Is such discussion even therapeutic? I don’t know.

Leave it on the ward

Discussing patients or clients online where anyone can see it – and that is how the issue surfaced – is inexcusable. What happens in Vegas stays in Vegas they say. What happens on the ward should also stay on the ward. This latest indiscretion cost one employee their job. It cost others suspensions ranging from a shift to an entire month.

We’ve also seen suspensions for staff sharing patient information, albeit innocently and with no intent to defame, via Facebook. Thankfully such situations remain rare. Unfortunately, they still happen.

So how do we stop it? We can’t ban social media across VCH. Even if we block Facebook, Twitter and other platforms on VCH computers, we can’t do it on personal phones. You can’t police people all the time.

Stronger stance?

We can take a stronger stance on discipline. When someone breaches confidentiality via social media, we now issue discipline based on a consideration of factors such as performance, seriousness of the breach, their response during investigation, and background to the incident. But is that enough? Should VCH, like professional colleges and organizations in other professions, publicly disclose such breaches? The Health Professions Act requires BC’s 22 regulated health professions, governed by 22 colleges, to disclose incidents related to public safety and the discipline handed out to those involved. They name names.

Should VCH post reports on employees whose actions have resulted in breach of public trust and/or safety? Would this kind of communication cause staff members to reflect upon the consequences of accessing a person’s health information without cause or sharing a comment via social media? Or is lack of awareness around consequences even the issue? Do we need more education for employees? Are there other things we can do to curb such behaviour? What do you think?


About the Author

Clay Adams

Clay Adams is vice president of Communications and Public Affairs and has extensive experience in strategic communications and planning, media relations, issues management and stakeholder communications in Australia and Canada. Clay writes on communication related topics with a wry humorous style and has an interest in discussion about how we want to be understood by others. View all the posts by Clay.

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6 comments on “Are we tough enough?

  • jenny says:

    I find the reference relating the tragic death of Reeva Steencamp irrelevant and distasteful. It has no relevance to the topic.

  • Sabina says:

    In general individuals should be subject to the consequences of their negative actions or behavior especially when it contradicts the policy or guidelines of the employer or organization. In some cases this may include disciplinary measures.
    Confidentiality and the privacy of our clients are goals that should be rigorously upheld and protected.
    And, we should all be aware that a careless post on social media sites can cause hurt and humiliation, bullying, not to mention a breach in confidentiality and privacy. Most of us in the health care profession have long been aware of maintaining confidentiality and not making careless comments about our clients in elevators and coffee shops. Posts on social media sites are much further reaching and intractable in most cases so we should be even more vigilant.
    What should be the consequences of breaching confidentiality or posting inappropriate comments?-I am not sure-it probably depends on the situation but there definitely should be consequences-more education or disciplinary.
    However, the unfortunate girlfriend of Oscar Pistorius who was tragically gunned down while in the bathroom -either there because she actually had to go to the bathroom or hiding in fear did nothing wrong and should not have suffered the consequences of her boyfriend’s murderous rage (or whatever excuse he used).
    This comparison of ” consequences” is not relevant, is insensitive and out of context with the point you were trying to make. Violence is never a laughing matter.

  • M. says:

    public shaming on top of dismissal (terminating has ominous implications) sounds a lot like bullying to me.

    • Clay Adams says:

      To clarify, I think any approach we take along these lines would not identify individuals by name. It would, however, identify by type of work (i.e. nurse, care aide, clerical worker) and Community of Care. We would endeavor to respect and protect employee confidentiality as much as possible without allowing such behavior to be hidden from view.

      • M. says:

        That sounds fair Clay. As to R’s comment and analogy: fundamentalist zero tolerance philosophy may appeal to those who don’t like nuance or uncertainty, but police have discretion as well as power, as does VGH admin. I am all for confidentiality but loss of employment is a pretty serious penalty as compared to a traffic ticket, although how serious depends on your social/financial status in both cases.The right of appeal is part of our laws although maybe employment law is different (less so if you can afford a good lawyer I would guess). Incidentally, there have been more than a few instances of police bullying/assaults over the years, which is why we should keep an eye on those who “dispense justice”.

    • R. says:

      Really M.? Doesn’t sound like bullying to me. If a police officer pulls me over and gives me a ticket for breaking traffic laws and endangering other people, is that bullying too? If the officer warns me that I could lose my license, is that bullying? I don’t get your point.

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