Several spontaneous telemedicine services using WhatsApp Messenger have started in South Africa raising issues of confidentiality, data security and storage, record keeping and reporting. This study reviewed the literature on WhatsApp in clinical practice, to determine how it is used, and users' satisfaction.
Methods: Pubmed, Scopus, Science Direct and IEE Expert databases were searched using the search term WhatsApp and Google Scholar using the terms WhatsApp Telemedicine and WhatsApp mHealth.
Results: Thirty-two papers covering 17 disciplines were relevant with the most papers, 12, from India. Seventeen papers reported the use of WhatsApp Groups within departments, 14 of which were surgery related disciplines. Groups improved communication and advice given on patient management. Confidentiality was mentioned in 19 papers and consent in five. Data security was partially addressed in 11 papers with little understanding of how data are transmitted and stored. Telemedicine services outside of departmental groups were reported in seven papers and covered emergency triage in maxillofacial, plastic, neuro and general surgery, and cardiology and telestroke.
Conclusions: WhatsApp is seen to be a simple, cheap and effective means of communication within the clinical health sector and its use will grow. Users have paid little attention to confidentiality, consent and data security. Guidelines for using WhatsApp for telemedicine are required including downloading. WhatsApp messages to computer for integration with electronic medical records.
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