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NHS workers turn to WhatsApp, Facebook Messenger for communication

Using consumer messaging apps are favoured for their efficiency, but the NHS raises concerns over safety.

By April Slattery

New research has found that NHS workers are increasingly using consumer instant messaging apps to communicate patient care plans.

The survey published by CommonTime is based on research from Viga looking at the benefits and concerns of using instant messaging within patient care. In total the research found that 43% of respondents relied on instant messaging apps such as WhatsApp and Facebook Messenger, equating to 500,000 employees throughout NHS England.

Workers within the NHS are offered internal communication systems, which allow them to discuss patient care plans or other information regarding inpatients. However respondents admitted that a key driving factor to using consumer apps instead was because they were dissatisfied with the provided channels of communication, based on efficiency.

A third of respondents admitted to using instant messaging apps to discuss rotas or shift handover organisation, with almost three quarters (73%) forming group chats using the applications. The use of group chats enabled quicker communication between colleagues, as 30% said they found it difficult to connect with colleagues via internal communications. Additionally, group chats made it quick and easy to discuss day to day routines and organise daily patient care.

NHS workers turn to WhatsApp, Facebook Messenger for communication

Workers believe consumer messaging apps are much more efficient than internal offerings.

Martin Wilson, clinical lead for IT at The Walton Centre NHS Foundation Trust, said: “The ability to have ‘group chats’ is perhaps the most obvious benefit, and reflects the clinical reality that we work in teams, and often make decisions as teams. Phone and pager systems of working, (as well as) email, just don’t support that clinical workflow particularly if you need a rapid response from multiple team members.”

Despite the positive impact NHS workers believe the apps have, there has been concerns from 75% of respondents. Concerns were raised over the safety of data processed among the applications, as the actions breach data policies within the NHS. However, 32% of workers believe that if instant messaging apps were banned it would lead patient care to worsen and patients suffer.

“I believe there is a balance to be found [to the use of instant messaging applications within the NHS], and am concerned about the risks of data traversing systems outside of public sector control,” James Rawlinson, Director of Informatics at The Rotherham NHS Foundation Trust said.

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Rowan Pritchard-Jones, chief clinical information officer at St Helens and Knowsley Teaching Hospitals NHS Trust, said: “For me, the ability to prioritise tasks with the detail of IM is helpful to clinical staff and therefore a driver for use above pagers, for example. Yet the drawback remains that such detail of care never makes it into the patient record.”

Using instant messaging apps has brought benefits for workers, enabling them to better communicate with one another efficiently and consistently. Therefore it prompts the NHS to consider using the applications in favour of internal services to communicate throughout the workplace.

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