Doctors and nurses across UK's health service are increasingly using WhatsApp and Snapchat, popular social media applications that are banned under its guidelines, to share information about patients, the media reported.
"A number of medical groups are using WhatsApp to discuss patients. I've definitely seen stuff which is one step away from being patient-identifying," Alisdair MacNair, a healthcare practitioner with the NHS, was quoted as saying to the BBC on Thursday.
A study, published in the British Medical Journal recently, found that among 2,000 doctors across five hospitals, a third were using web-based apps to send clinical information. Use of internet-based messaging apps to send patient information is strictly banned under the current guidelines of the National Health Service (NHS), the publicly funded national healthcare system in the UK.
Instead, doctors are required to contact each other by pager or fax, but "the process is lengthy", the doctors said. According to experts, the NHS is far behind in the adoption of digital sharing technologies and these apps provide medical practitioners with quick and easy solutions.
"We use WhatsApp because it's the quickest and easiest way to communicate with a whole team or group of clinicians," said an NHS consultant trauma surgeon, who did not wish to be named. "So, if you're responding to a major incident, you can have the whole team involved and see what's coming (in terms of patient injuries) so teams can be ready."
"It can also be really helpful for junior clinicians to communicate with senior colleagues, send images of X-rays and get quick advice on the best course of action. However, we only use initials or bed number information, we don't identify patients," the consultant said.
"Although, no major error has come to light yet, but it is only a matter of time before a senior doctor leaves his or her phone on the train and someone gets hold of the all the conversations about patients and suddenly someone's (medical) status is made public", said Felix Jackson, who runs a digital messaging service for health workers.