Secure Messaging Apps for Healthcare

Excellent communications are undoubtedly one of the cornerstones of providing effective healthcare services.  The proliferation of popular communication and collaboration platforms across smart devices means that many medical staff are now using the likes of WhatsApp to discuss patient needs and complex cases.  On the face of it, it seems a perfect solution.

However, the very nature of these popular platforms and the mobile smart devices using them, means that patient confidentially is potentially at risk, along with public trust and possibly the careers of medical professionals.

Finding the best in communications technology

A recent article in The Guardian by Dr Georgina Gould outlined the dilemma that doctors and medical staff face.  The article includes some startling statistics – unsurprisingly nearly 99% of doctors have a smartphone, but the revelation is that just over a third use web-based messaging apps to send clinical information.

Undoubtedly spurred on by the immense advantages of sharing details, files and advice, many medical staff use WhatsApp as a quick and easy communications platform.  As well as aiding collaboration, it has also had a lot of success in breaking down traditional hierarchies in the health service, which benefits staff and patients alike.

However, as Dr Gould’s article highlights, as well as these benefits the likes of WhatsApp could potentially lead to compromised security and confidentiality of patient information.  With even tighter legislation on the security of personal data coming into force next May with GDPR, it is more important than ever to be vigilant.

Happily, there are alternatives available which precisely match this brief and are designed with medical professionals and existing/potential communications networks firmly in mind.

A better-suited alternative

One such example is the Multitone Appear multimedia platform. It takes the best of public social media apps, but offers the high-levels of security that many are lacking from these systems.

The Multitone Appear app covers the essential basics of secure communications.  You can very easily send a single message to multiple people all at once and verify who has read it, be that selected groups or specific individuals.  Like all social media apps, it is focussed on making it easy to share relevant contacts with other users for full collaboration opportunities.

Unlike publicly available communication apps, the Appear+ version of the app also fully integrates with hospital systems, so wards can page via a telephone system in the traditional way and with an inbuilt Session Initiation Protocol (SIP) phone you can immediately return these calls.  Equally, this system allows staff to receive other alarms/alerts such as fire alarms and Nursecall.

Additionally, and perhaps most importantly, you can control the privacy of any communications.  Because Multitone Appear is a corporate app, private contact details can be hidden, a ‘do not disturb’ function allows messages to be read without having to answer voice calls (to avoid disruption, although outgoing calls can be made), and the information can only be shared between closed user groups within the organisation.  There is no chance of somebody being accidentally included in a post or the information being hacked in the public domain.

Maintaining security

Because installation and use of Multitone Appear is controlled by the healthcare Trust, you know exactly where the information is stored and where it is visible.

With security in place, you can then be sure that the multitude of useful features are completely safe to use.  At the same time, you have all the benefits of a public app like WhatsApp – you can quickly and easily share images or data files with the right people.  You can also keep the desired files securely within the system, fully sandboxed on your mobile device, with no danger of them being distributed to other unauthorised media.

The Multitone app also supports fully secure voice calls and a conference bridge, which is perfect for collaborative working across different locations or teams.  Additionally, it is simple and secure to send your location (with a map) to other professionals if you want to meet face-to-face.

Protecting patients and healthcare professionals

Data protection is always of paramount importance, so the fact that sensitive details can easily be sent to the wrong person, and that it doesn’t require a separate password (leaving an unattended mobile device vulnerable to unauthorised access), makes WhatsApp of serious potential concern.

Without written consent, sending identifiable sensitive patient data on a potentially open network could see medical staff in serious hot water with the General Medical Council.

WhatsApp has proven the invaluable assistance these collaborative communications systems can provide.  It’s now vital that these benefits can be realised in a fully secure way that provides peace of mind to everyone involved.