What’s up with WhatsApp?

Going app? Dr Gabrielle Pendlebury reveals what doctors should know about using WhatsApp and similar computer applications used at work to communicate with colleagues

Apps offer an efficient, unobtrusive and portable mode of communication for medical staff. 

Traditional communication via pagers has proved unreliable and two-way communication is difficult. Using apps on mobile phones to communicate with colleagues is fast, efficient, portable and convenient. 

But sharing patient data in this way also raises legal and ethical issues.

A study of 2,107 doctors by the BMJ across five hospital sites found that 98.9% own a smartphone, and just over a third use web-based messaging apps to send clinical information. 

The same report also showed that 65% of doctors had texted patient data from their smartphones, 46% had sent pictures such as wounds or X-rays to a colleague and around a third had used an app such as WhatsApp to share confidential information.

WhatsApp allows users to share information quickly, with more than one person if needed, and easily with limited data usage. 

End-to-end encryption gives users a sense of security when sharing private information through the platform. As a result of the convenience factor, an increasing number of doctors are turning to WhatsApp to consult with colleagues. 

Confidentiality issues