Legal and Ethical Issues Related to the Use of Smartphones in Healthcare


According to the latest research studies, large-scale embracement and adoption of technology are evident across the globe in various healthcare settings (Jain, 2009). The use of both smart phones and social media is instrumental in the modern medical profession (Jain, 2009). Some of the perceived benefits of the aforementioned technologies include streamlined operations, reduced re-admission cases, and improvement of patients’ outcomes (Jain, 2009). It is irrefutable that smartphones improve efficiency in regards to communication and patient care (Krishna, Boren & Balas, 2009). Besides, the application of technology in healthcare has led to reduced costs of meeting healthcare expenses. However, it is important to examine how social media tools such as Twitter, Myspace, Linkedin, Istagram, Youtube and Facebook can affect patients’ care and personal privacy (Jain, 2009). It is against this backdrop that this paper examines the personal and hospitals’ perspective on ethical, legal and professional issues related to the use of smartphones and social media in healthcare. Additionally, this paper explores some of the advantages and disadvantages of employing smartphones and social media in the delivery of healthcare services.

Personal Reflection on the current technologies, privacy concerns, legal and ethical issues

Jain (2009) asserts that social media platforms such as Twitter, Facebook, Netlog and Linkedin have become increasingly popular among nurses and doctors in their daily delivery of care services to healthcare recipients. However, there is a growing concern regarding the appropriate use of social media and smartphones among healthcare personnel. Some healthcare institutions have indeed begun to enhance stringent policies and guidelines with the aim of controlling the use of social media and smartphones among healthcare professionals. Jain (2009) highlights that social media pose incredible benefits to physicians and nurses only when used appropriately. It is critical to note that the growing popularity of social media and use of smartphones have led to myriads of challenges in the healthcare sector (Jain, 2009). In fact, appropriate measures must be taken in order to ensure that social media outlets are not used to violate physician-patient privacies.

There are also a number of ethical concerns related to the use of smartphones and social media platforms. Upon careful review of literature, several healthcare professionals hardly adhere to the ethical codes of conduct set by their respective regulatory bodies (Jain, 2009). For example, some healthcare personnel openly discuss patients’ health information in social media (Yu, Ray & Motoc, 2008). It is important to mention that healthcare professionals are expected to protect the confidentiality or privacy of patients. Hence, they should not disclose their health information to unauthorized persons. According to the Federal Health Insurance Portability Act of 1996 (HIPPA), health professionals are expected to protect individual health details. Personal health information should not be availed freely to media due to privacy concerns (Yu et al., 2008). It is unfortunate that most of healthcare professionals do not adhere to ethical practices as of them share patients’ health information in social sites (Krishna et al., 2009).

Advantages of using smartphones and social media in healthcare

After careful analysis of the current applications of technology in healthcare, it is irrefutable that smartphones such as Iphone, Android devices and iPads help physicians and nurses to communicate and exchange essential patients’ health information (Schmitt, Sims-Giddens & Booth, 2012). Moreover, the use of social media assists doctors and nurses to effectively exchange ideas and obtain medical guidelines from internet sources such as medical blogs and encyclopedias (Yu et al., 2008). It is apparent that some of the information posted in social media sites can be very helpful to healthcare providers especially if they are derived from reliable sources. Furthermore, research has shown that smartphones help physicians and nurses to manage patients’ information and documents for the sake of future reference (Krishna et al., 2009). The applications in smartphones facilitate rapid transfer and sharing of medical knowledge among healthcare professionals. Currently, there are limited benefits of the aforementioned technologies in healthcare in comparison to the growing challenges (Jain, 2009).

Disadvantages of using smartphones and social media sites in healthcare

One of the worst challenges of these technologies is unauthorized disclosure of patients’ health information (Yu et al., 2008). Research studies indicate that storage of information in smartphones does not require encryption software (Schmitt et al., 2012). Therefore, lack of authentication features can permit any person who handles the phone to access data stored in memory chips even after information has been transferred into a computer. Besides, smartphones are vulnerable to theft and loss of data since they are more portable (Schmitt et al., 2012). Additionally, using smartphones to access social sites is more distracting and can affect the efficiency and quality of care given to patients. Breaching information security can be a major setback in the delivery of healthcare services to patients.

Let us imagine of a scenario whereby an individual is a nurse on a night duty. Consider a schedule that is very tight besides unusual inflow of patients from diverse backgrounds and diagnosed with various types of ailments. Her friend in a concert texts and informs her how much you are missing in the concert because of her busy schedule. All of a sudden, she is called into the emergency room to attend to a patient who has been involved in a road accident. The victim is unconscious and as she shifts her focus towards him, she realizes that he is a famous person. She also notices that he is a lead singer in the concert she has just missed. Before doing anything else, she quickly snaps a photograph of the unconscious patient with her smartphone and immediately posts it to her friend.

Option 3: Conclusion of the scenario above

When she is not at work, the nurse signs into her Facebook account and talks about how she does not regret missing the concert because she had an opportunity to meet Jerrod in person. She even brags that she got his number and then posts a picture of Jerrod on Facebook and Instagram. She thinks that most of her contacts will never recognize him and so there is no harm.

Reflection of the scenario

In such a scenario, it is obvious that the nurse does not adhere to the professional ethics because the privacy of the patient has been compromised. The patient will lose personal confidence in healthcare professionals upon realizing what has happened (Jain, 2009). The affected person might even contemplate to take legal measures against the nurse. Such an act is both unethical and illegal. At this point, it is predictable that the nurse may be accused of violating the HIPPA Act by exposing the condition of a patient to a third party. Most of the healthcare providers and professionals have interactive forums with patients in social media sites. A number of cases have been reported whereby medical professionals give illegal and misleading advice to patients. In addition, most patients have a lot of concern about their privacy. The latter is attributed to the fact that some nurses and physicians cannot be trusted to secure confidential health information. Jain (2009) suggests that healthcare professionals should be keen on the nature of their postings to social media sites. In other words, they ought to carefully scrutinize personal information and be able to establish those that are not supposed to be exposed to the public (Luxton, McCann, Bush, Mishkind, & Reger, 2011). In real sense, it is clear that the use of smartphones and social media in healthcare presents both benefits and challenges. Therefore, unless stern measures are put in place to curb abuse of these tools, the ethical gains in healthcare delivery might be retrogressed substantially. Jain (2009) points out that the benefits of social media might soon be undermined due to the overuse and abuse of the available technologies.

Conclusion and recommendations

Although healthcare professionals and patients will continue embracing the use of smartphones and social media to interact and exchange ideas among them, it is worth to note that this might lead to more demerits than merits. From the above analysis, we cannot doubt the fact that healthcare privacy is at risk unless stern measures are instituted to monitor the use of these technologies and alleviate the likely risks. As part of recommendation, ethical and legal measures should be applied across the board to monitor the use of smartphones and social media sites among healthcare staff. This will assist in safeguarding the quality of patients’ care delivery, personal privacy, efficiency and security of health data.


Jain, S. H. (2009). Practicing medicine in the age of Facebook. New England Journal of Medicine, 361(7), 649-651.

Krishna, S., Boren, S. A., & Balas, E. A. (2009). Healthcare via cell phones: a systematic review. Telemedicine and e-Health, 15(3), 231-240.

Luxton, D. D., McCann, R. A., Bush, N. E., Mishkind, M. C., & Reger, G. M. (2011). M- Health for mental health: Integrating smartphone technology in behavioral healthcare. Professional Psychology: Research and Practice, 42(6), 505.

Schmitt, T. L., Sims-Giddens, S. S., & Booth, R. G. (2012). Social Media Use in Nursing Education. Online Journal Of Issues In Nursing, 17(3), 1.

Yu, W. D., Ray, P., & Motoc, T. (2008). WISH: A wireless mobile multimedia information system in healthcare using RFID. Telemedicine and e-Health, 14(4), 362-370.

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