Smartphones let surgeons know WhatsApp: an analysis of communication in emergency surgical teams

Am J Surg. 2015 Jan;209(1):45-51. doi: 10.1016/j.amjsurg.2014.08.030. Epub 2014 Oct 22.


Background: Outdated communication technologies in healthcare can place patient safety at risk. This study aimed to evaluate implementation of the WhatsApp messaging service within emergency surgical teams.

Methods: A prospective mixed-methods study was conducted in a London hospital. All emergency surgery team members (n = 40) used WhatsApp for communication for 19 weeks. The initiator and receiver of communication were compared for response times and communication types. Safety events were reported using direct quotations.

Results: More than 1,100 hours of communication pertaining to 636 patients were recorded, generating 1,495 communication events. The attending initiated the most instruction-giving communication, whereas interns asked the most clinical questions (P < .001). The resident was the speediest responder to communication compared to the intern and attending (P < .001). The participants felt that WhatsApp helped flatten the hierarchy within the team.

Conclusions: WhatsApp represents a safe, efficient communication technology. This study lays the foundations for quality improvement innovations delivered over smartphones.

Keywords: Communication; Information technology; Patient safety; Surgery; mHealth.

Publication types

  • Clinical Trial
  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Cell Phone*
  • Emergency Medical Services / organization & administration*
  • General Surgery / organization & administration*
  • Humans
  • Interprofessional Relations*
  • Mobile Applications*
  • Patient Care Team / organization & administration*
  • Patient Safety*
  • Prospective Studies
  • Time Factors