Frequently Asked Question: FAQ:

Is sending patient data via WhatsApp safe?

Other FAQs

Short answer: It is NOT safe to use WhatsApp to send patient data.

Anecdotal evidence suggests many doctors in Australia are using WhatsApp to share messages, and images with other physicians. In the UK the use of WhatsApp is now ubiquitous in NHS hospitals.

There are five issues:

  1. WhatsApp is owned by Facebook, a US company. This becomes an issue of data sovereignty. Paraphrasing regulations, most countries (Australia included) state that patient data should not travel internationally if it can be accessed without knowledge by a foreign entity. WhatsApp uses end-to-end encryption which is good, but this isn't the holy grail of security. Cough, "Snowden".
  2. In 2017, a security vulnerability exposed the data of millions of users. Although quickly patched; it's still a cause for concern.
  3. By default, WhatsApp automatically saves all photos you receive into your phone gallery! On iOS it is easy to change the setting to prevent this. On Android it is ridiculously hard - you have to download another app to do it! See instructions below.
  4. For photos you receive, you have to manually remove the photos. See the How do I delete patient photos I have stored on my photos? FAQ for instructions.
  5. You have to remove images from the WhatsApp conversation. Although possible, this is rather impractical. See instructions immediately below.

How to remove images from a WhatsApp conversation

To remove an individual image, follow these instructions.

  1. Go to the chat that includes the image you want to remove.
  2. Tap on the image.
  3. Tap the Trash icon.

If you have lots of offending images in conversations, here is how you can clear conversations.

  1. Go to the Settings tab,
  2. Tap on Data and Storage Usage.
  3. Tap on the chat/person you want to clear.
  4. Tap on the Manage... button at the bottom.
  5. Select Photos (and Videos).
  6. Tap the Clear button.

How to prevent WhatsApp from putting received photos in your phone's gallery

iOS

To prevent WhatsApp from putting received photos in your gallery on iOS.

  1. Open the Settings app.
  2. Scroll down and tap the Chats row.
  3. Turn the Save to Camera Roll switch off.
Android

There are the ridiculously hard instructions provided by WhatsApp.

  1. Go to the Google Play Store App and download a file explorer.
  2. Open the file explorer and navigate to WhatsApp/Media/WhatsApp Images/.
  3. Create a file named .nomedia (the period is necessary).

Given the afore-stated reasons, we strongly suggest that you do not use WhatsApp for sharing patient data. The NHS echoes this advice. "Whatever the other merits of WhatsApp, it should never be used for the sending of information in the professional healthcare environment."

You could, of course, use PicSafe to take clinical photos and share them via WhatsApp. PicSafe bypasses all the issues above and keeps patient data encrypted at all times.