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NHS nurses using their own smartphones for work


Nurses are routinely using their own smartphones for patient care, reveals a new survey.

The survey of frontline NHS staff found 95% of nurses owned a smartphone, just under 65% owned a tablet and that many used these devices at work.

“Healthcare organisations need to develop policies to support the safe and secure use of digital technologies in the workplace”

Study authors

The findings, based on responses from 287 doctors and 564 nurses from different specialities, raise concerns about the security of patient data, suggest researchers.

The research team, from Imperial College London and Imperial College Healthcare Trust, polled clinical staff at five London hospitals and found doctors were more likely to use personal smartphones at work.

However, more than half of nurses – 53% – also stated they found smartphones “very useful” or “useful” for carrying out clinical duties.

About 35% of nurses said they had downloaded a clinical app to their device, with two thirds saying they used these as part of clinical work.

A proportion admitted sending patient data using smartphones, although doctors tended to do this much more.

Fourteen per cent of nurses said they had used SMS text messages, 6% had used app-based messaging such as WhatsApp, and 7.5% said they had used their phone’s camera and picture messaging to send a photo of a wound or X-ray to a colleague.

Many said they wanted to use their own devices at work and 37% of nurses said they would like a secure way of sending patient data to colleagues using their personal smartphone.

However, secure messaging services for smartphones are not yet available in the UK and data is unlikely to be encrypted, warned the researchers.

They said it was vital for NHS organisations to make sure staff understood the risks of sharing patient information on their own devices.

“The results provide strong evidence that healthcare organisations need to develop policies to support the safe and secure use of digital technologies in the workplace,” they concluded in the online journal BMJ Innovations.

Nithin Thomas, chief executive of technology company SQR Systems, said: “It is not only the data that is stored on the devices but every conversation through text, voice or video using an app that is potentially exposing sensitive data that can be exploited by criminals.”


Readers' comments (12)

  • Using one's own gadget vs patient confidentiality = big issue here!

    The hackability of modern technology is massive. If you put a mobile phone in the microwave (switched off), close the door, then ring it, it will not work. The NHS, if using this stuff, ought to thinking of non-hackable materials to carry gadgets (or protect rooms) with. Anything related to law use paper, person, and speech as a means of verification. The legal profession would not move to non-written forms of verification for obvious reasons. The NHS ought to think how and why it is using technology, and how this fit in to defensible documentation as legally-verifiable. If it is hacked, it doesn't exist in the form you wrote it. If someone logs-in with your password - and these are not kept completely private - someone else's activity is presented as your own, and you'd find it difficult to argue your case without evidence of your own written work.
    Potentially, any modern technology can be subject to an attack that would fry all the equipment regardless of whether it is switched-on - inc. cars. Russia did something similar ages back and a load of stuff would not work.

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  • My last comment relates principally to being hacked remotely. Obviously, even if you make a PC-room protected from remote hacking, it can still be hacked via the internet connection.

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  • As a student nurse, i see this all the time. i know a nurse who took a photo of something using her own phone which only happened when she was there. the photo was then deleted however ended up being referred to the NMC because of this.

    i understand why many use their own personal phones as it aids in the profession at times, as long as it is used appropriately

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  • FFS!

    Is no-one getting training on data protection? I thought information governance training was mandatory for all foundation trust staff.

    We were barred from even attaching a non-approved, i.e. our own, thumb drive to a work computer.

    This is a data leak waiting to happen.

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  • Shouldn't be expected to bear the costs themselves including wear and tear and maintenance and especially as the public begrudge them so much despite the fact that they get fewer perks than many other workers and far poorer working conditions.

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  • don't 1. confidentiality or perceived confidentialty .2. why pay for this yourself .3. more complaints by the daily mail that nurses had the audacity to use a phone etc

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  • not a good idea on many levels as previously said also infection risk and judging by some nurses i ve previously worked with would be abused i.e. staff using for personal text calls whilst supposedly caring for ill patients

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  • I have to use my own phone to make work related calls to pharmacies and other agencies, simply because our department only has one phone line which is very busy and it is not viable to wait for the line to become free in order to make calls and get on with one's work. Therefore, I have to use my own minutes to make work calls. I don't feel I am compromising security by doing this. I don't ask for thanks for doing it, but I would expect Trust bosses not to criticise me for doing it - or they could install a second, needed telephone line into such a busy office?

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  • Use apps to calculate clinical risk scores eg GRACE, CHADS2VASC2, TIMI etc all the time. Alos great aps to supporting a whole range of investigations, clinical norms etc. Would love Trust to purchase the tech to enable me to do this without using up my personal phones battery life but unlikley to happen!

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  • The NHS is terrible at practitioner sensitive, patient-centered, joined-up technology.
    Safe, covenient information transfer, controlled by the practitioner, seems to be last thing on the mind of Executives and therefore the IT designers they consult; so I understand why Nurses, Medics and others, use their own kit; as dangerous, potentially as this is. The immediate benefit obviously though, outweighs any percieved risk.
    Perhaps if IT designers started their research by scoping what folk actually do, to ensure the accurate, efficient and timely capture and flow of appropriate information about patients, they could design IT ''Solutions" that actually solved problems. I'll bet, compared to "rolling out" Key Performance Indicator-type number crunching systems, this matter is still hardly ever addressed at Board Level.
    Rather than having useless, expensive arrangements that don't assist the smooth running of day-to-day services, the NHS could, if it had a mind to, procure useful, expensive hardware and software systems that protect and value the integrity of both the system and the practitioner (as well as making a busy working day slightly easier).

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