Pro­tect pa­tient in­for­ma­tion, medics us­ing What­sApp in emer­gency told

Belfast Telegraph - - NEWS - BY JEN­NIFER COCKERELL

NHS staff have been is­sued with new guid­ance on us­ing in­stant mes­sag­ing ser­vices such as What­sApp to co-or­di­nate pa­tient care dur­ing emer­gen­cies.

Medics have al­ready turned to com­mu­ni­ca­tion chan­nels such as What­sApp to deal with emer­gency sit­u­a­tions in­clud­ing the 2016 Croy­don tram crash and last year’s Gren­fell Tower fire in Lon­don, as well as the ter­ror­ist at­tacks at Lon­don Bridge and in Manch­ester.

The new guid­ance will help NHS or­gan­i­sa­tions and staff to make a judg­ment on how and when to use in­stant mes­sag­ing safely in acute clin­i­cal set­tings, tak­ing into ac­count data shar­ing and data pri­vacy rules.

Sim­ple steps that staff will be told they should take in­clude only us­ing apps and other mes­sag­ing tools that meet the NHS en­cryp­tion stan­dard, not al­low­ing any­one else to use their de­vice, and dis­abling mes­sage no­ti­fi­ca­tions on their de­vice’s lock screen to pro­tect pa­tient con­fi­den­tial­ity.

They will also be ad­vised to keep sep­a­rate clin­i­cal records and delete orig­i­nal mes­sag­ing notes once any ad­vice has been tran­scribed and at­trib­uted in the pa­tient’s med­i­cal record.

Dr Helgi Jo­hanns­son, con­sul­tant in anaes­the­sia at Im­pe­rial Col­lege Health­care NHS Trust in Lon­don, set up a ma­jor inci- dent in­stant mes­sag­ing group to help co­or­di­nate his hos­pi­tal’s re­sponse to the Gren­fell fire af­ter learn­ing from the West­min­ster at­tack, and was in­volved in re­view­ing the new NHS guid­ance.

He said: “Fully en­crypted in­stant mes­sag­ing ser­vices can be a par­tic­u­larly use­ful com­mu­ni­ca­tion tool in de­liv­er­ing care to peo­ple dur­ing a ma­jor in­ci­dent.

“From the West­min­ster at­tack we learnt it was im­por­tant not to over­load the emer­gency care co-or­di­na­tors with of­fers of help, so with Gren­fell we used in­stant mes­sag­ing to help co­or­di­nate which staff should come in, who was needed where, and plan the ser­vice for later on that day which vastly im­proved the care we were able to pro­vide.

“Th­ese sen­si­ble guide­lines will makethe­care­o­four­pa­tientssafer through bet­ter com­mu­ni­ca­tion by NHS staff.”

Chief Clin­i­cal In­for­ma­tion Of­fi­cer for Health and Care Dr Si­mon Ec­cles said: “Help­ing peo­ple dur­ing a cri­sis like the Gren­fell fire de­mands a quick re­sponse and in­stant mes­sag­ing ser­vices can be a vi­tal part of the NHS toolkit.

“Health ser­vice staff are al­ways re­spon­si­ble about how they use pa­tients’ per­sonal de­tails and th­ese new guide­lines will help our doc­tors and nurses to make safe and ef­fec­tive use of tech­nol­ogy un­der the most in­tense pres­sure.”

The NHS said it has not en­dorsed any par­tic­u­lar in­stant mes­sag­ing tools. In­stead, the guid­ance sets out what in­for­ma­tion gov­er­nance is­sues need to be con­sid­ered and what stan­dards need to be met.

It is be­ing pub­lished jointly by NHS Eng­land, NHS Dig­i­tal, Pub­lic Health Eng­land, and the De­part­ment of Health and So­cial Care.

Dawn Mon­aghan, di­rec­tor of the In­for­ma­tion Gov­er­nance Al­liance, said: “Im­proved com­mu­ni­ca­tion be­tween med­i­cal pro­fes­sion­als keeps pa­tients safer.

“In­stant mes­sag­ing how­ever is no sub­sti­tute for the med­i­cal record and it is im­por­tant any ad­vice re­ceived on those chan­nels is added to the med­i­cal record, with the orig­i­nal mes­sages deleted.”

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