Messaging apps in the workplace

The Wall Street Journal ran a piece last month titled “Do Messaging apps fit into the workplace?” and I couldn’t help but wonder whether this applies to home health providers like ABA practitioners. Messaging apps are fairly ubiquitous so it’s hard to imagine a work setting that doesn't have some form of chat or messaging software in place.

I’ve mentioned a list of HIPAA compliant apps like Google Meet and Skype for Business in my ABA Tech Starter guide but generally those tools extend beyond the purview of messaging.

Messaging apps like WhatsApp, Facebook Messenger and the newly released Instagram Threads make it ridiculously easy for users to communicate. While I understand that sometimes employees want to blow off steam by complaining to other coworkers I don’t think that using the aforementioned messaging apps are appropriate for these reasons.

Now you see me now you ...

Privacy oriented messaging apps like Signal have built in features where the message is removed from the sender and receiver after a specific period of time. This is fine if you’re trying to make sure no one is copying your fantasy football strategy but risky for health practitioners. Even if your employees aren’t submitting PHI using these messaging tools – how can you prove to an auditor that isn’t happening?

With an ephemeral messaging scheme you really can’t.

Super fast thumbs

One of the nice things about messaging apps is that it’s a fairly rapid way of sending and receiving information. Pick an existing contact or just use an existing message thread and start typing away rapidly. Beyond getting chronic thumb pain, this rapid means of communication can also open the doorway for employees to start getting into arguments and devolving an entire discussion into a gossip gram.

Gossip Gram

I’m sure you’ve run into situations before where something happens at work and the gossip mill kicks off. We’re all human and asking someone not to gossip is almost like asking them not to think or breath. That said having apps with automatically disappearing messages poses a risk to a health provider. What happens if the discussion is regarding a patient? What used to be referred to as water cooler conversations are now being done over these messaging apps.

Can you be 100% sure PHI isn’t being exposed?


Communication is a complex field. One could argue that messaging apps don’t really encourage real communication as there is a complete lack of tone, body language and shared attention. That said, while I do think health providers should allow employees to use messaging tools the following should be considered:

  1. Use the right messaging tool. Signal, Facebook Messenger, WhatsApp and Instagram Threads are consumer grade messaging tools that are inappropriate for the workplace. Use tools like Google Meet, Slack or Skype For Business that allow you to maintain an audit trail of messages sent across the wire. Don’t forget to get a BAA from their respective vendors.
  2. Set the right expectations with your employees. Help them understand that these messaging tools are to be used for business communication purposes only.
  3. Provide HIPAA certification training to your employees. Give them the confidence to know what types of information are appropriate to be shared via these messaging tools.
  4. Provide an alternative to messaging apps to allow your employees to blow off steam. Schedule team building events like Escape rooms to encourage teamwork and collaboration.

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