Social media and networks in health and social care
Social media and networks in health and social care

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2.4 The ethical debate on PTG

You will have seen that there are a range of different perspectives about using internet search engines to find publicly accessible information about people. When working in health and social care it is important to put the service user at the centre of what you do and so the decisions you make about care need to be justified. In order to use the internet or social media responsibly in relation to service users, a study by Ryan et al. (2019) found members of the public felt that:

  • the act needs to be in the best interests of the patient/service user
  • curiosity is not enough to justify searching for a service user’s information
  • wherever possible, consent should be sought and documented
  • justification for the ‘search’ needs to be documented
  • ethical principles need to be considered (i.e. beneficence, maleficence, autonomy and justice).

Ryan and Cornock (2019) and Ryan (2019) suggest a framework by which to consider the professional, employer, ethical and legal implications of PTG so that you can most effectively make and justify your decisions.

The next activity guides you to think more carefully about the searching the internet for information about service users.

Activity 8 Making an internet search on a service user for the purpose of protection

The following video describes the findings of a research project that examined how social workers should or should not use Facebook profiles as part of their practices in child protection. You are advised to watch this video on a full-sized monitor or laptop rather than a mobile device if possible.

This is a relatively challenging video, so don’t worry too much if you find it difficult to follow all of it. Focus on the main message, which is around the ethics of using information from social media as part of child protection assessments. As you watch this video, consider whether you think that professionals in health and social care should use social media to find information about their patients or service users.

How would you feel as a patient or service user if a professional did this to you? Make some notes about the circumstances when you think this would be appropriate.

Download this video clip.Video player: Video 1 Facebook: An unethical practice or effective tool in child protection?
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Video 1 Facebook: An unethical practice or effective tool in child protection?
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Revisiting the activity in the previous section, has your opinion changed?

Do you think that it is acceptable for health and social care workers to use social media to find out information about service users in their care?

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This is a relatively new area of debate and there are a range of ethical, legal and professional issues associated with using the internet to find information about service users. You might agree with such activity because anything you might find through an internet search is publicly accessible, or it might be that you feel there needs to be more awareness about what people share and how they share it.

Either way, it is important to make sure that anything you do as a professional or employee in health and social care is clearly justifiable and in the best interests of the people in your care. You should consider Beauchamp and Childress’s (1989) four components of ethics and make sure you are operating within current professional guidance, policy and procedure.

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