Doctors switched to instant messaging platforms to communicate when the Covid-19 outbreak began. According to a new study WhatsApp was widely used across departments to share confidential patient data.
In the UK the NHS gave doctors emergency permission to use the app at the height of the pandemic, when sharing information rapidly was essential as hospitals struggled to cope with unprecedented numbers of patients.
The study of a hospital department in Barcelona, Spain, during the first wave of the pandemic in March and April last year, has found that WhatsApp was the main method of sharing patient data between doctors. But it says 96 percent of all information on the messaging app was irrelevant to patient care – raising the risk that doctors will mix up vital patient data with other chats about their social and family life.
The study also shows app was used for 71 per cent of all information about patients shared by doctors.
This problem is likely to get worse after May when WhatsApp rolls out new privacy settings, which will allow companies, as well as individuals, to contact users over the platform.
WhatsApp puts confidential patient data into chat groups running alongside personal messages, which breach GDPR and Care Quality Commission rules.
The NHS is now coming under pressure to withdraw the emergency dispensation to use WhatsApp and make doctors use approved messaging services.
Dr Tom Oakley of medical imaging and messaging company Bleepa, said: ‘As the NHS moves out of the worst of the COVID-19 pandemic, it needs to update its guidance to reflect the requirement to use instant messaging platforms which protect patients from harm and doctors and hospitals from legal action.’
The Barcelona study found use of WhatsApp by doctors went up by 2,400per cent during the pandemic, and the app was used for 71 per cent of all information about patients shared by doctors.
UK studies have previously found British doctors rely heavily on WhatsApp to manage patients, despite concerns about the risks to patient care.