This plastic surgery team discuss their experience with using WhatsApp instant messaging over the last three years. WhatsApp is now commonplace amongst surgical teams in hospitals, for both social and business interactions. In the authors’ experience, WhatsApp allows team discussions and the circulation of daily virtual medical rounds to all team members without everyone having to review the patient in person. These ‘rounds’ would be prepared by the resident and would include the date, time, patient names, surgical interventions, length of stay and postop complications and photos. They reviewed their practice over a one-month period when 184 messages were sent and found it took seven minutes for the ‘virtual daily ward round’ message to be prepared. Advantages included the rapid access and exchange of information and consensual decision making, as well as transparency of patient management.
They discuss the EFF 2014 report, which concluded that WhatsApp provided a good level of security and confidentiality through a complex analysis of their cryptography. Since this time however, Facebook with its ever-changing rules on data security, has acquired WhatsApp, and many Trusts in the UK are strongly advising that it should not be used for transfer of patient identifiable data.
Downsides were cited as the fact that the ‘virtual medical rounds’ discussion was only on WhatsApp and thus does not appear in the patient’s file, so that the decision making is not recorded. Although the authors strongly recommend this form of communication, there are clear issues with transferring identifiable patient data through a private company without assurance of the information’s security.