HIPAA Aside, Healthcare Practitioners Need to Rethink Patient Privacy

A new study published in the journal BMJ Innovations that surveyed doctors and nurses in the United Kingdom has found routine breach of patient privacy through the use of digital devices.

A new study published in the journal BMJ Innovations that surveyed doctors and nurses in the United Kingdom has found routine breach of patient privacy through the use of digital devices.

The authors of the study embarked to find out the extent of digital device use among healthcare professionals through a survey conducted among 6000 clinical staff at 5 hospitals in London on ownership and use of portable devices and mobile health apps in the workplace. The results published were the responses of 287 doctors and 564 nurses; nearly all the doctors who participated had a smart phone and nearly 75% owned a tablet. The corresponding numbers for participating nurses were 95% and nearly 65%. While 78% of doctors had downloaded medical apps to their devices, only about 35% of nurses did so.

When queried about their use of SMS, app-based messaging (WhatsApp) and picture messaging using their smartphone’s camera, most said they had done so. Sixty-five percent of doctors said they had used SMS, about 33% had used app-based messaging, and 46% had used picture messaging to share a photo of a patient’s wound or X-ray with a colleague. Nurses, however, reported les frequent use to share such patient data: 14%, 6%, and 7.5%, respectively.

Considering that the information shared on these open networks was not secure, the researchers have urged the NHS to raise awareness among healthcare professionals about the potential risks of sharing patient information using unsecured smartphones.