Optimizing Patient Surgical Management Using WhatsApp Application in the Italian Healthcare System

Telemed J E Health. 2016 Sep;22(9):718-25. doi: 10.1089/tmj.2015.0219. Epub 2016 Mar 30.


Introduction: Smartphones changed the method by which doctors communicate with each other, offer modern functionalities sensitive to the context of use, and can represent a valuable ally in the healthcare system. Studies have shown that WhatsApp™ application can facilitate communication within the healthcare team and provide the attending physician a constant oversight of activities performed by junior team members. The aim of the study was to use WhatsApp between two distant surgical teams involved in a program of elective surgery to verify if it facilitates communication, enhances learning, and improves patient care preserving their privacy.

Methods: We conducted a focused group of surgeons over a 28-month period (from March 2013 to July 2015), and from September 2014 to July 2015, a group of selected specialists communicated healthcare matters through the newly founded "WhatsApp Surgery Group." Each patient enrolled in the study signed a consent form to let the team communicate his/her clinical data using WhatsApp. Communication between team members, response times, and types of messages were evaluated.

Results: Forty six (n = 46) patients were enrolled in the study. A total of 1,053 images were used with an average of 78 images for each patient (range 41-143). 125 h of communication were recorded, generating 354 communication events. The expert surgeon had received the highest number of questions (P, 0.001), while the residents asked clinical questions (P, 0.001) and were the fastest responders to communications (P, 0.001).

Conclusion: Our study investigated how two distant clinical teams may exploit such a communication system and quantifies both the direction and type of communication between surgeons. WhatsApp is a low cost, secure, and fast technology and it offers the opportunity to facilitate clinical and nonclinical communications, enhance learning, and improve patient care preserving their privacy.

Keywords: WhatsApp™ application; communications; elective surgery; liver disease; patient care; privacy.

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Aged
  • Communication*
  • Confidentiality
  • Female
  • Focus Groups
  • Hepatectomy / methods*
  • Humans
  • Internship and Residency / organization & administration*
  • Italy
  • Male
  • Medical Staff, Hospital / organization & administration*
  • Middle Aged
  • Mobile Applications*
  • Patient Care Team / standards*
  • Quality of Health Care
  • Smartphone
  • Time Factors
  • Young Adult