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With the birth of social networking sites, use of blog and Twitter accounts during conferences, and the introduction of iPads in medical schools and hospitals across the UK, it is no wonder that the use of WhatsApp to communicate between clinicians has been enthusiastically embraced by some. With currently over 1.5 billion monthly active users, it acts as a bleep, computer, camera, audio recorder, data storage device and telephone.1 2 A recent study also concluded that half a million National Health Service staff are using messaging applications, such as WhatsApp.3 With a working wireless or data connection, users can send free messages to each other via end-to-end encryption.4
A message is forwarded through a WhatsApp server to the recipient. When the recipient has internet connection, the message is received on their device and deleted from the server. If the message is not delivered within 1 month, it is automatically deleted from the server. End-to-end encryption was introduced in April 2016 to protect messages from ‘hackers’ as they are delivered. This feature ensures messages can only be unlocked by the recipient, so only they can read the message.
Of 28 investigations closed by the General Medical Council (GMC) between January 2015 and June 2017, 3 were related to doctors’ use of WhatsApp.5 Good Medical Practice states that ‘you should remember when using social media that communications intended for friends or family may become more widely available’.6 So are clinicians using WhatsApp cautiously? Who is invigilating its use? Or have we stepped into a grey area where the traditional bleep system is being replaced by a new era of communication.
Despite the widespread …
Contributors SH: involved in the planning, conduct and reporting of the work described in this article. RH: involved in the planning and reporting of the work described in this article. KT: involved in the critical revision of the work and final approval of the version to be published. JH: involved in the critical revision of the work and final approval of the version to be published.
Funding The authors have not declared a specific grant for this research from any funding agency in the public, commercial or not-for-profit sectors.
Competing interests None declared.
Patient consent for publication Not required.
Provenance and peer review Not commissioned; externally peer reviewed.