Data security solutions as alternatives to Whatsapp for Doctors and NHS tech
6 Jun 2017
A recent and interesting article in The Guardian has highlighted the debate on how useful Whatsapp could be for Doctors and Clinicians in the NHS to transfer sensitive and confidential information. The article points out Whatsapp has already proven to be 'a life saver' as it has already been used off the cuff by emergency services such as in response to the Croydon tram crash in November 2016, as it allowed doctors at the scene to communicate with co-workers at the neighbouring hospital regarding what patient injuries to anticipate and how to deal with them.
However, despite positive examples of Whatsapp being utilised by emergency services such as this, official advice from NHS England reiterates: “Whatever the other merits of WhatsApp it should never be used for the sending of information in the professional healthcare environment.” Now the majority of doctors are vigilant in avoiding using more than one patient identifier in messages, such as using patient initials as opposed to full names, or a bed number. But in practice, this cannot always be relied upon as there might be patients with identical initials and other details may be included such as date of birth and gender.
The nucleus that surrounds patient information governance and how apps such as WhatsApp fall short when complying with NHS regulations is not the concern of high-tech hackers but instead, is the app’s end-to-end encryption which has been the focus due to its impenetrability. But as a medical professional using WhatsApp, all is needed to compromise a patient's security is for the device to be left unlocked invisible view of others or one incorrect button press and what is meant to be confidential and private data all of a sudden could easily breach those boundaries.
One pitfall for WhatsApp to be industrialised in the medical professional is that it doesn’t need a unique password to access the app itself, so in essence, an unattended unlocked phone is a simple bulls-eye for a driven infiltrator. The remoteness of out of and inside of work-related communications with Whatsapp can also be precarious and it’s not unusual for messages to inadvertently reach an accidental recipient.
On the other hand, it's not as though a prescription has never been sent to to the incorrect fax number or an e-mail to an incorrect e-mail address so it is difficult to see how we could avert from relying on accurate human action in one way or another when transferring information.
Sillo believe they have an alternative to Whatsapp. The claim is their solution is designed specifically for the medical industry, primarily based on "nothing can be decrypted unless it first survives authentication, and the authenticator’s entire job is to prevent the attacker from forging messages that survive authentication".
But despite this, there is one factor which still needs to be overcome. The holy grail for the medical industry will be to have no data residing on any device after an app or communication software has been used. Currently, all data that is sent to and decrypted on a mobile device resides on the device in one way or another. However an approach that could be adopted is instead of removing or securing data on a device is to not have it downloaded and thus reside on the device in the first instance.
A model to surpass this could be a component driven mechanism whereby users are granted access to determine which component's they are entitled to use which can be requested from the server into a holographic client container that resides on the device. Examples of components could be patient NHS number's or medications on a patient's repeat prescription list which are granted on a permissions basis. When the component has been used, any data is transferred via the used component and is removed from the device and backed up on the server leaving the device data free.
Then again, this presents further considerations such as what happens in the instance of network outages and medical professionals who operate in low bandwidth areas? Offline usages of any technology that would resemble this model would have to be considered in reliability assessments when testing.
Any technologies which could offer solutions to achieve these goals should be seriously considered to be deployed for use in the medical sector.