Canadian doctors launch ‘WhatsApp for Health’
August 16, 2016
Health care is becoming increasingly collaborative. Traditional solo practices are disappearing and being replaced with multidisciplinary teams of family doctors, specialists, nurses, dietitians and pharmacists. But how does such a team communicate effectively about you, the patient, while also seeing tens of other patients throughout the day?
Apps such as WhatsApp and iMessage are becoming the communication mode of choice between many health-care workers. According to Canadian Health Privacy Legislation however, these apps do not meet the encryption standards and data sovereignty rules needed to communicate sensitive medical information.
In most cases, pictures and messages about patients are sent in an anonymized way (for example: “Here are the key slices from the CT scan for that patient we discussed”). But in a minority of cases, accidental privacy breaches do happen, such as a reported case in which a doctor sold his iPhone on Kijiji but failed to completely erase thousands of sensitive photos from it.
Health-care workers are fined $20,000 and institutions $50,000 for each reported privacy breach. But this is only done after it’s too late and the breach has happened. It’s still largely up to physicians to decide how to best maintain patient confidentiality and what tools to use.
This is what led doctors Justin Yeung and Demetrios Rizis to launch ShareSmart.
“It was starting to get uncomfortable using iMessage and WhatsApp for clinical communication because it was unprofessional, insecure and illegal. We looked for an alternative but there wasn’t anything available, so we decided to just make it ourselves, tailoring it for Canada’s unique health-care system,” says Rizis, a Montreal plastic surgeon.
All photos taken and messages sent in ShareSmart bypass the smartphone’s public storage and are sent directly to a secure Canadian cloud facility. Encrypted content can only be sent to other registered health-care professionals. The app also comes with a few features such as photo archiving and tagging that make doctors more productive.
“When we talk to other doctors, it is very well received. Everyone is looking for an app that does just what ShareSmart does. However, we wish there was more uptake from other health-care professionals such as nurses, occupational therapists, physiotherapists, dentists and pharmacists, because that would allow for the multidisciplinary collaboration that it was designed to do,” says Yeung, who’s a plastic surgeon based in Calgary.
What’s Up, Doc? is a medical column that covers the most interesting doctors, health researchers, and health-care issues or innovations in Canada and in our wider global community.