The government has published guides that tell NHS staff to judge for themselves when it is safe to use instant messaging applications in acute settings and take into account the privacy and data security rules.
The guidance comes when doctors increasingly use applications such as WhatsApp to communicate with each other, even during emergencies such as recent terrorist attacks, Grenfell's fire and the Croydon tram crash.
The guide, issued jointly by the Department of Health and Social Services, Public Health of England and NHS Digital, acknowledges the need for instant messaging software, but adds that the staff should only use independent applications such as WhatsApp or Viber when the local NHS organization It does not offer a "suitable alternative."
NHS's clinical information chief (CCIO), Simon Eccles, said he helped people "during a crisis as the Grenfell fire demands a quick response and instant messaging services can be a vital part of the NHS tool."
"Healthcare personnel are always responsible for how they use personal data from patients and these new guidelines will help our doctors and nurses make a safe and effective use of technology under the most intense pressure," he said.
The guidance said that instant messaging "may have clinical utility, but remember that the law places obligations on organizations to protect the patient's confidentiality."
"If you are a clinician, you may also have to defend yourself against regulatory inquiry if you have not taken sufficient steps to protect confidentiality," he said.
The guidance makes it clear that it does not support any particular tool, but it establishes what doctors should look for when using mobile instant messaging applications.
When choosing an application, the staff must verify that they meet the NHS encryption standards, have user verification, password protection, and the possibility to remotely erase messages if the device is lost or stolen.
The staff must turn off the notifications that appear on the screen locked, so as not to let anyone use their device and keep a separate clinical record and delete the messages after transcribing the notes in the medical record.
"Instant messaging does not change your responsibility to maintain a complete medical history. Do not use instant messaging conversation as the formal medical record. Instead, keep separate clinical records and delete the original message notes," said the orientation.
"Any advice you receive about instant messaging should be transcribed and attributed to your medical history. Remember that instant messaging conversations may be subject to requests for freedom of information or access to topics."
The general surgeon and the member of the Royal Council of Surgeons, Andrew Miles, said patient safety could be improved when staff can "quickly communicate confidential patient information between computers, for example by instant messaging."
"Doctors have the responsibility to comply with all relevant standards regarding patient confidentiality and professional responsibility to ensure that they do not infringe this confidentiality by using instant messaging tools," he said.
"This important guidance will keep our patients safer, making clinical equipment use the latest and best available technology."
A recent study by the mobile technology provider CommonTime found that almost half of all NHS employees rely heavily on applications such as WhatsApp, iMessage and Facebook Messenger to work. However, 58% of the trusts do not have any policy for the use of these applications and 56% do not offer other alternatives.