Crossing That Mysterious Line on Facebook

The other day EMS brought in a 58-year-old man to a certain Toronto-area hospital. His chief complaint? He had broken a toe nail. Left great toe, to be exact.


Now, I have a ten-dollar bill that says you think you know where I’m going with this: stupid ambulance-calling patient abusing the system, har-har, look at the dummy. Right?


One of my spies tells me there is a nurse at this hospital who posts tales of triage on her public Facebook page. She nailed — she thought — this particular patient just after Christmas, and didn’t bother to change the details of the chief complaint much to protect confidentiality.* Nor did she much conceal her contempt for this particular patient.

The detail the nurse neglected to mention on Facebook was this patient’s early-onset Alzheimer’s. He was just beginning to have some very serious cognitive problems; he called EMS when his toe began to bleed, then became quite agitated. His wife thought there was something seriously wrong.

Maybe not so funny now, right? Maybe more a case for social work and home care intervention than public ridicule?

I know there is a veritable cottage industry out there devoted to silly emergency department stories. Patients, in truth, do some very strange and funny things, and sometimes their appearance at the triage desk are for reasons less than credible. Hell, I’ve spun more than a few stories on this blog myself. I hope at the end of it I’ve respected both the patients and their confidentiality. But clearly the nurse above crossed a line. To me it feels abusive and frankly, rotten.  There’s a huge confidentiality issue. The context was deliberately left out: it’s not funny at all if you know the circumstances. The patient and family are in a particularly vulnerable situation.

But the question I have to ask is, where exactly is that line, and how do we know when we’ve crossed it?


*I have, however.


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  1. #1 by Gwen Styles on Friday 31 December 2010 - 1002

    You’re right. I have to be careful about what I share as well. In my government position, I speak to a lot of people who appear to be jerks with entitlement issues, but when you look at their situation from their point of view or even just from a neutral place – there’s often an underlying cause or issue that makes whatever they’re doing much more understandable.

  2. #2 by Scott on Friday 31 December 2010 - 1244

    I work with a nurse who regulary claims to look up the pt’s on our floor on facebook and shares all the “juciy” details with a group of like minded co-workers. Myself and some other staff have spoken out about this only to find ourselves the target. There is no question what is happening is wrong but no one is sure if this is something that our manager can do anything about. Anyone have any ideas?

  3. #3 by Sean on Saturday 01 January 2011 - 2225

    For some crazy reason certain health care ‘peeps’ think social media outlets is different than what you say and/or do in person?
    Don’t type it if you wouldn’t say it.

  4. #4 by Cartoon Characters on Sunday 02 January 2011 - 1212

    i am actually getting tired of the blogs that rant about their patients. I guess it’s like a car wreck…you have to take a look. But after a while you start to wonder about the person telling the story. There are a few very sarcastic blogs out there that lay out patient’s stories in an unfeeling way…..I am starting to avoid those ones….. to me, it tells me more about the storyteller than the patient…..

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