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UK Press: WhatsApp Group Where Patient Data Was Entered On More Than 500 Occasions Between April 2020 And April 2022

UK press reported that between April 2020 and April 2022, 26 staff at a local UK National Health Service facility in Larnakshire had access to a WhatsApp group where patient data was entered on more than 500 occasions, including names, phone numbers, and addresses. Images, videos, and screenshots including clinical information.

A non-staff member was also added to the WhatsApp group in error, resulting in the inappropriate disclosure of personal information to an unauthorized individual.

NHS Lanarkshire reported the incident to the ICO, which concluded that it did not have the appropriate policies, clear guidance, and processes in place when WhatsApp was made available to download.

Here are some of the key IG mechanisms that healthcare organizations can use to prevent or mitigate similar situations:

Comprehensive Information Governance Training: Staff should undergo regular training sessions focused on information governance best practices, that specifically highlights the risks of using unauthorized tools for sharing sensitive patient data.

Strict Data Sharing Policies: Establish clear and communicated policies detailing the approved methods and platforms for sharing patient data and outlining the consequences of using unauthorized tools.

Technology Approval Process: Implement a process for reviewing and approving new technologies or communication platforms for handling patient data.

Regular Audits and Monitoring: Establish routine audits and monitoring mechanisms to identify unauthorized or suspicious activities related to patient data.

Role-Based Access Control: Implement strict access controls to limit staff access to patient data based on roles and responsibilities.

Incident Reporting and Response: Set up a clear procedure for reporting incidents involving the unauthorized sharing of patient data including immediate reporting, investigation, and corrective actions.

User Awareness Campaigns: Launch campaigns to raise awareness among staff about the risks associated with using unauthorized communication tools for patient data sharing using real-world examples.

Regular Review of Policies: Regularly review policies and procedures to make sure that they are current and address relevant technology risks.

Privacy Impact Assessments (PIAs): Conduct PIAs before adopting new communication tools or platforms for handling patient data.

Centralized Communication Platforms: Promote and communicate the use of approved, secure, and centralized communication platforms designed for healthcare settings.

By implementing these measures, healthcare organizations can significantly reduce the chances of unauthorized patient data sharing through WhatsApp and other similar platforms, prevent the involvement of non-staff members, and ensure better compliance with privacy and information governance standards.


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