Visiting the doctor can involve many difficulties, from trying to schedule an appointment to sitting around in a waiting room. But another big issue with doctors is getting in contact with them. Too often, a patient is trying to get a health related issue checked out or resolved, and it takes quite a while for the patient to get a hold of a doctor. Phone tag has become a regular part of interacting with a doctor. Thanks to a new initiative by the popular messaging service WhatsApp, there may be a solution to this.
In April, WhatsApp announced that it would start using end-to-end encryption. This change may lead to a shift toward better health care. In Brazil, almost nine out of 10 doctors communicate with patients using WhatsApp, according to Cello Health Insight. The app was instrumental in tracking the country’s outbreak of Zika virus. Doctors used it so share symptoms as they observed them, as well as the CT scans of babies.
U.S. doctors have been slower to adopt this policy, with only 4% using it with patients. This is mostly due to concerns about violating the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act (HIPAA), but this could change as WhatsApp promotes its commitment to encryption.
WhatsApp isn’t specifically for health care, but according to attorney Katie Kenney, it is just as HIPAA-compliant as many doctor-specific apps, if not more compliant. There are 132 companies that offer secure messaging, and while many declare themselves HIPAA-compliant, WhatsApp is one of the few that truly does comply. WhatsApp constantly works to ensure that the data is secure. This means focusing not only on the technology but on the precautions that physicians are taking. Doctors will need to protect their devices using passwords or other locks, and establish an authentication system to make sure that the person they are messaging is the correct patient.
WhatsApp and its health-focused competitors are likely to be the solution to the demand among doctors for a safe way to treat and monitor patients remotely. The American health care system is moving away from paying doctors based on the number of appointments they make and the number of tests they order. The system is instead shifting toward compensating doctors for keeping patients healthier overall. This is likely to sway more physicians in favor of using messaging apps like WhatsApp.
Not everyone is convinced that doctors in the U.S. will use WhatsApp. According to Barry Chaiken, president of DocsNetwork, people are questioning whether a WhatsApp conversation could be documented along with the rest of a patient’s medical record. Another concern is whether a WhatsApp conversation could be used in a malpractice lawsuit. It is still uncertain which messaging apps work with privacy laws.
The most appealing thing about WhatsApp is that it’s free. This is likely to make WhatsApp rise above the rest of the secure messaging apps. This free messaging app has helped a number of people communicate with their family and friends, but in a few years, it would play a huge role in allowing patients to speak with their doctors without the hassle and the high pricetag.