By Luc Wade, Management Consultant at Hive Business
The use of WhatsApp and other internet group chat apps has spread among clinicians for good reason — they save time. Research published in the British Medical Journal found that of 2,000 doctors across five hospitals, a third used apps to send clinical information, even though the NHS expressly bans this on grounds of patient confidentiality.
The same is true in dentistry, but there is confusion around what is legally safe, as an individual and as a business. We spoke to Sarah King, partner at View HR, an HR and employment law consultancy, for some clarity.
Sarah, what’s the problem for dentists here?
There are no hard and fast rules saying you can’t use WhatsApp for business, but when we have clients telling us they use it casually, we like to make sure they are aware of the potential pitfalls.
While these groups can be informative in the workplace, they could be used inappropriately, for example, as a tool to bully a colleague or humiliate someone. Even if done in jest an off the cuff remark can be taken out of context and offend someone. This, if made public, could cause reputational damage to your business.
In addition, and as yet this is untested, anything said in a WhatsApp group about someone could be disclosable under a Subject Access Request under GDPR.
How can dentists make sure they’re safe?
If you’re invited to be a member of a WhatsApp group or you are setting one up, be clear about the boundaries. When is it going to be used? Are members expected to contribute and reply at the weekends (which I don’t recommend!)? If a member goes on annual leave, is there still pressure for them to respond?
Many people in this day and age are experiencing work overload – they are taking work home or catching up with work while on leave, known as ‘leavism’. Employers should protect their employees from these pressures as this could possibly lead to stress and mental health issues. I know my business partner Gemma Murphy and I take work home as self-employed people, but many employees are feeling the pressure to respond to emails on holiday. Work is at our fingertips all of the time but we need to be able to switch off.
What about confidentiality?
It is recommended that you train employees on GDPR, ensuring they understand what is acceptable and what is not when communicating about patients, employees or otherwise and certainly not to discuss any such subject on a WhatsApp group.
Have you seen things end badly?
We work with a lot of GP practices and this is one thing the NHS is hot on, but we have seen relationship breakdowns thanks to unfortunate exchanges on group chats, where someone has taken offence to a message.
It’s all too easy to misinterpret the written word. You can say the same thing five ways but you cannot control how someone receives it, there are no visual cues on WhatsApp and it’s easy to take offence — once said, you cannot take anything back.
So my five golden rules would be:
- Don’t assume there is always a net benefit to apps like WhatsApp
- Tell members why you are setting up the group
- Be clear on how you want it to be used and what you don’t want to happen
- Discuss the parameters with all group members
- Discuss your expectations, for instance, if you send a message on Friday afternoon, when do you expect a response by?
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