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Social media use: Rules and regulations for EMS

EMS organizations and fire departments need to regularly train on and discuss the policies they have

Updated June 30, 2016

At EMS World several years ago, I joined Chief Skip Kirkwood in facilitating a conversation about legally regulating social media use and conduct by employees after we volunteered to fill the spot that was to be occupied by Steve Wirth and Doug Wolfberg (Superstorm Sandy cancelled their travel plans).

We began the presentation with an overview of the social media landscape from our vantage points. Then we took questions from the audience. Many attendees told me they learned a lot from sharing with one another and appreciated the format.

We opened by reminding all attendees to consider that managers have lots of potential problems in EMS to anticipate, prevent and react to.

Some of those problems include vehicle crashes, employee on-the-job injury, drug diversion, customer complaints, low reimbursement, and more.

The time and effort to regulate staff social media use should be appropriately prioritized relative to these other concerns. As Chief Kirkwood stated, “If an employee’s first action when they feel wronged is to ventilate on Facebook, the organization has an employee relations problem.”

The social media landscape
EMS leaders should keep these important points in mind when evaluating the social media landscape.

1. Utilization of social media networks and smartphones is a habit (if not addiction) forming activity. Many users can't disconnect from Facebook, Twitter, or other social media sites for eight, 12, or 24 hours. Expecting them to adhere to a workplace ban is naïve.

2. Social media can be harnessed by individuals and organizations as a tool for good rather than a nefarious tool for evil.

3. Organizations should use social media to demonstrate value to their community.

4. EMS managers and administrators should exhibit and role model professional behavior and conduct on social networks.

5. Organizations should monitor the social web with Google Alerts of key words for their organization and an RSS feed of relevant Twitter searches.

6. All organizations should have an official Facebook fan page (not a personal profile), and monitor the page for comments and wall posts.

7. Consider when to and when not to accept friend requests from employees, volunteers and students.

Train with "What ifs ... "
In addition to having a social media policy, EMS organizations and fire departments need to regularly train on and discuss the policy.

Use a "What if approach ... " to lead specific discussions about do’s and don’ts. Some "what ifs" to get you started include:

  • Notification of next of kin after an employee is severely injured or killed on duty.
  • Disparaging comments are made on Facebook about a supervisor, partner or patient.
  • Several employees complain on Facebook that they are not given a discount at a local restaurant while on duty.
  • An EMT rants on Twitter that he wanted to "punch my last patient."
  • Employees post pictures taken while on duty of members in uniform with department equipment on a personal blog.
  • A paramedic captures and publicly shares images of a patient's impalement wound (modify to include if the patient gave verbal permission for the photo to be taken).
  • A firefighter writes a series of blog posts complaining about pay, benefits and work conditions.
  • An officer sends emails, using a department email address, to co-workers about an upcoming religious event.

Finally, we encouraged all participants to take these actions as soon as possible:

1. Review and update their organization's internet usage and downtime (time without patients) policies.

2. Create, adopt and train on an organization social media policy.

3. Establish a social presence for the organization.

4. Monitor the social web.

What are your questions and concerns about regulating social media usage by employees and volunteers?

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