In case you don’t know what WhatsApp is; it is a free instant communications app that works on different mobile device platforms and is owned by Facebook. It is one of the world’s most commonly used social media, immediate communication tools with around 1.5 billion users throughout the globe.1 With that volume of users, it is not surprising that healthcare professionals are significant users both in hospitals and in the community.

Patient confidentiality

However beware, there are significant risks of potential breaches of patient confidentiality when using a messaging medium such as WhatsApp (or equivalent).2,3

Every clinical study on mobile messaging dictates that clinicians should safeguard patients’ privacy above all else if WhatsApp is being used in clinical care.4

The General Medical Council (GMC) stipulates that “the standards expected of doctors do not change because they are communicating through social media rather than face to face or through other traditional media.”

For the purposes of this article, I will assume you are using WhatsApp for personal and social use and not for work or patient issues. I will also assume that you and the intended recipient of your message has the app correctly installed on their mobile devices. So what services can WhatsApp offer? Here is a selection of just some of the useful attributes of WhatsApp.

WhatsApp via desktop

Some people struggle to type on their phone and don’t always realise that you can run WhatsApp via your computer and keyboard. You can pair your phone with your desktop and read more about it here https://faq.whatsapp.com/nb/web/28080003/ and here https://faq.whatsapp.com/an/web/26000012/ This is a useful feature to improve your productivity of using WhatsApp especially if you prefer typing on a standard computer keyboard rather than using a small virtual keyboard on your phone.

Audio messaging

WhatsApp is great for free (apart from the cost of Wifi, Mobile data or your device) instant text messaging to both individuals or as part of groups coupled with the ability to send images and documents to virtually any connected recipient anywhere in the world. Even better, this facility usually works within seconds and you can also receive notification of delivery. If you don’t want to type then there is the facility to record an audio message and then send it to your intended recipient. However don’t forget that the app also offers the facility to make direct audio and video calls, again at free of charge again apart from any cost of Wifi, mobile data or device.

Location finder

Another gem lying within the WhatsApp app is the very useful location finder which some people may not know about. Choose a contact on your list and instead of sending them a message, click the + sign to the left of the message typing panel. Then click the location item in the presented menu. You have the choice of sharing your live location for a pre-determined time or sharing your current location. There are a number of practical uses for this such as meeting a friend or reminding someone of where their car is parked. I have personally used this facility a number of times and then used sat nav to get to the location shared by WhatsApp.

Other top tips include editing photos and videos, exporting chats and sending messages hands-free.

 

References

1. https://www.digitalinformationworld.com/2019/02/whatsapp-facts-stats.html  

2. https://www.bmj.com/content/360/bmj.k622

3. https://practicebusiness.co.uk/nhs-staff-disciplined-due-to-reliance-on-whatsapp-facebook-messenger-and-other-apps/

4.https://www.digitalhealth.net/2018/02/whatsapp-doc-legal-and-practical-perspectives-of-using-mobile-messaging/

 

Harry Brown is a GP in Leeds and medical editor of GM Journal