A recent study involving medical staff in Victorian hospitals found that the use of communication apps is widespread and often clinicians share patient data. 
Clinicians most commonly used WhatsApp. Despite privacy concerns, clinicians shared an average of 12 messages per day with colleagues and their teams, including:
- Patient details
- Patient results
- Details that facilitate clinical handover
- Pathology results
- Admission notes
- Imaging results ….
What are the key benefits?
The participating clinicians found that communication apps helped them to share clinical information quickly with multidisciplinary teams and increased efficiency in patient care. Clinicians cited that the key benefits are prompt communication, a reduction in interruptions and portability.
Junior clinicians noted easier access to senior clinicians and to other team members who were only intermittently available. The clinicians perceived many benefits from using communication apps, including the ability to have a group chat and view when messages had been read.
Some staff who travel across hospitals and between health care sites required efficient mobile communication. The study found these apps contributed to enhanced communication between staff.
However, sharing patient information via communication apps raises legal and ethical issues.
What are the disadvantages?
Despite the ease of use and efficiency in sharing information, clinicians were aware of potential risks to patient confidentiality, legal and ethical issues. They cited one-sided communication, missing aspects of a conversation thread, and the expectation that all members of the group were equally informed about a patient when the information is shared on the app, even if the members of the group were not present in the workplace.
97% of the participants in the study had concerns about privacy when sharing patient information on a communication app. Half of the participants suspected they may get “in trouble” for doing so.
In 2015, The Medical Board of Australia highlighted the risks related to communication with patients via electronic messaging.
Communication apps can play a significant role in optimising communication between medical staff to deliver better health outcomes for patients. Effective and efficient communication supports safe and high-quality patient care.
The advancement of technology and mobile communication bring with it a range of legal and ethical issues. In Australia, federal, state and territory privacy legislation regulate the handling of personal information.
Most of the mobile phone apps currently in usage within the Victorian health care system to communicate clinical information do not comply with privacy regulations. As of today, The Office of the Australian Privacy Commissioner has not sanctioned any health care providers for privacy breaches involving patient information shared on non-compliant communication apps, despite having the legal power to do so.
With increasing public awareness about the importance of protecting personal and sensitive health information, it appears only a matter of time until patients demand their data to be better protected.
If you are thinking of using a communication app to share clinical information, consider the safe and compliant Clinivid app to protect you and your patients.
References US National Library of Medicine. (Jan-March 2018). The use of communication apps by medical staff in the Australian health care system: Survey study on prevalence and use.