NHS issues staff guidance on safe use of instant messaging in acute care

Advice includes which smartphone apps to use to coordinate care during emergencies

Includes which smartphone apps to use to coordinate care during emergencies

Caption Picture: Chris Balcombe

Advice on the safe use of smartphone instant messaging by healthcare staff to coordinate care during emergencies has been published.

During recent events such as the Croydon tram crash, Grenfell Tower fire and terrorist attacks at London Bridge and Manchester Arena, nurses, doctors and other frontline staff used instant messaging apps such as WhatsApp to communicate.

The new guidance from the NHS aims to help organisations decide when to use such apps and which to choose.

Advice on phone settings

It says nurses using instant messaging in such situations should not allow anyone else to use their device, should disable message notifications on their device’s lock screen to protect patient confidentiality, and should only use messaging tools that meet the NHS encryption standard.

The guidance, produced by NHS England, NHS Digital, Public Health England and the Department of Health and Social Care, stresses that instant messaging is not a substitute for medical record-keeping.

‘Demonstrates how technology can help’

Independent consultant nurse and advanced nurse practitioner Matt Griffiths said the guidance is timely, with many nurses already using messaging groups.

Professor Griffiths says the guidance
is timely, as many nurses are already
using instant messaging groups.

Professor Griffiths has used communication services including Yammer and WhatsApp, along with what3words, an app that can help pinpoint where patients are at busy sites such as festivals.

‘My department uses a closed WhatsApp group to cover shifts and make announcements,’ Professor Griffiths said. ‘I know that other departments use the same types of communications. Health and social care secretary Matt Hancock is keen to use more technology to deliver healthcare and this type of work demonstrates how it can help.’

Imperial College Healthcare NHS Trust consultant in anaesthesia Helgi Johannsson set up a major incident instant messaging group to help coordinate his hospital’s response to the Grenfell Tower fire.

‘Fully encrypted instant messaging services can be a particularly useful communication tool in delivering care to people during a major incident,’ he said. ‘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.’

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