We recently discussed how a significant percentage of the world’s pagers are in active use within the NHS as a key tool in alerting doctors to a situation. Our article discussed the possibility of introducing tailored software on doctors’ own smartphones to replace the use of pagers.
Georgina Gould is a junior doctor who advocates the use of WhatsApp, the popular messaging application. She, and many of her colleagues, uses the application to discuss current cases and gain better insight. Dr Gould is grateful for the learning opportunities that come from the extra sense of community offered by WhatsApp.
The only concern that Georgina has about using WhatsApp is to do with security. As she has written:
“I’m worried about how we can keep our conversations and, more pertinently, patient information closed and confidential.
“The use of WhatsApp is now ubiquitous in NHS hospitals. A recent study of 2,107 doctors 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. This is hardly surprising given that the other options available to us are hospital pagers and fax machines: laborious technologies that are neither quick nor convenient. In fact, pagers are now so archaic that one of two companies running them, Vodafone, recently announced it was pulling their obsolete plug.
“Instant messaging is a more efficient way for us to communicate, but we need a system that doesn’t put patient confidentiality on the line.”
The use of WhatsApp, or other mediums, versus pagers inspired Dr Gould to conduct a study.
“We found that use of these apps breaks down traditional hierarchies and allows doctors to communicate more freely with their immediate clinical team. From the most junior doctor to the most senior (though in practice often excluding the consultant), these groups allow all of us to work together more effectively, and enable shyer or less-experienced team members to seek help when they need it. They inspire camaraderie.”
NHS regulations are clear that WhatsApp should not be used to communicate on specific cases: “Whatever the other merits of WhatsApp it should never be used for the sending of information in the professional healthcare environment.”
Despite the warning from the NHS it is also clear that doctors, and other medical staff, cannot continue to use pagers. Instead they need a new tool that reflects the higher functionality that comes with WhatsApp while maintaining privacy and upholding NHS regulations.