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Posted on Jun 14, 2014 in News | 0 comments

A doctor’s guide to smarter phone use

Ed: Dr Perera, Editor-in-chief of JMTM has recently written a piece for Avant’s member magazine. The piece from the magazine is presented below.

Most Australian hospitals have yet to develop, let alone enforce, smartphone guidelines. This leaves doctors in a grey zone.

As such, we must take reasonable measures to ensure patient privacy and safety is not compromised.


A recent survey found that 87%1 of doctors use personal mobile devices for clinical use.
Of those, 62% have medical apps on their smartphones. While having reference materials or calculators at your fingertips is convenient, the quality of medical apps varies significantly. Studies have shown that some are wildly inaccurate, which is why it is so important to verify their accuracy before use.

Journal articles testing the accuracy of
medical apps are regularly published, so before using any app with the potential to influence patient management, search for appropriate evidence on sites such as PubMed (

Security measures

It’s not just medical apps we must be wary off: the mobile devices hosting them also pose risks when used inappropriately.

A 2012 study conducted by computer security company Symantec provided some fascinating insights into data accessed on ‘lost’ phones. Known as Project Honey Stick, it placed 47 unsecured smartphones in the public and tracked their use.

Of the ‘lost’ devices:

89% were accessed for personal-related apps and information.

83% were accessed
for business-related apps and information.

70% were accessed for business and personal-related apps and information.

45% attempted to access corporate emails.
Carrying patient data on your phone is the same as carrying it in your briefcase. There are, however, steps you can take to secure this data.

Setting up your phone so a passcode is required to unlock it will protect against most casual data thieves. This way, if it is lost or stolen you can demonstrate reasonable measures were made to protect your data.

You should also enable remote locking or content wiping so, if your phone is lost, you can prevent information from being accessed. How depends on the model, but most devices have this feature. If not, third-party software
is available.

Finally, ensure your phone data is encrypted (stored in a form that requires a PIN to read), otherwise the memory can be read
on a computer.