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Key points

  • Technology has given communication numerous different formats
  • Technology improves access, speed and efficiency of communication
  • Technology enables us to connect
  • Technology has unique benefits and risks

Introduction

Here you will find information on communications technology.

Including:

  • Role of communications technology in speech and language therapy
  • Responsibilities
  • General considerations
  • Telephone and video calls
  • Instant messaging
  • Email
  • Social media and online forums
  • National legislation and guidance
  • Resources
  • Contributors

Please contact us with any feedback on these pages. 

Related Topics

Role of Communications Technology in Speech and Language Therapy

Communications technology allows us to communicate with our service users, other professionals and the wider public.

Using technology can enable quick, efficient communication with a diverse audience, but it also brings with it issues around:

  • Confidentiality
  • Professionalism
  • Knowledge of use

Some web pages and social media are maintained by professional organisations such as the RCSLT or NHS Trusts; others may not be regulated to the same standards.

Responsibilities

Employers: usually assume responsibility for the organisation, coordination and maintenance of security systems which protect data transmitted by telephone, or over the internet.

Employees: it is important that you familiarise yourself with local policy and follow guidelines set. It will also be your responsibility to highlight any security risks and breaches that you identify during the course of your work.

Independent practitioners: it is important for you to access or develop your own policies relating to the maintenance of confidentiality when using communications technology. You have a legal duty to keep confidential information secure and to process and store data in line with the Data Protection Act (1998). Your policies should be freely available to service users, in line with guidance from the Information Commissioner’s Office (ICO). All independent practitioners and companies should be registered with the ICO, who also provide a self-assessment tool and resources, to support compliance.

SLTs are responsible for ensuring all communication they have in the course of their work meets the professionalism standards and guidance developed by the HCPC and RCSLT.

Information governance guidance also applies to electronic data.

Visit Professional Autonomy and Accountability for guidance to support you in adhering to the standards of the regulator, the Health Care Professions Council (HCPC). Key sections include:

  • Promote and safeguard the interests of service users and carers
  • Communicate appropriately and effectively
  • Respect confidentiality
  • Manage risk

It also highlights the importance for all speech and language therapists to:

  • Understand the legislation
  • Act as resource investigators
  • Build supportive infrastructure
  • Work in partnership

General Considerations

You are duty-bound to comply with local/national policies and the HCPC code of practice. Failure to do so could affect your professional registration.

Use your common sense, if you would not say something face to face, don’t say it via other communications.

Think carefully about how recipients will interpret wording.

Remember some forms of communications technologies leave a permanent trace (email, online forums and social media), and may be shared with third-parties for whom the message was not intended.

Use of social media and online forums can blur the boundaries between personal and professional lives, Speech and Language Therapists need to ensure they:

  • Maintain appropriate professional boundaries
  • Are aware of the potential risk to reputations by implied endorsement
  • State clearly which are your personal views and declare any conflicts of interest, e.g. if endorsing/promoting a certain private provider.

Access is assumed to be more instant than traditional written correspondence, and so replies are often expected more quickly. There should be guidance on managing expectations, e.g. how often e-mails are checked, and when it is appropriate to use a mobile phone vs. the office phone.

Communication via technology is bound by the same standards of consent, confidentiality and information governance, as all other forms of communication.

Telephone and video calls

Telephone calls are a frequent format of communication. They provide an instant format of communication between users and are usually less subject to misinterpretation that other communication technologies.

Mobile telephones are used by some employers to enhance security for employees via ‘lone worker’ schemes. Some employers operate a password system to ensure confidential information is not shared inappropriately.

Video calls are becoming more common, and have the additional benefit of non-verbal interaction through facial expression, body language and gesture. For this reason, they may be a preferred format for communication with some service users.

When making calls:

  • Ensure appropriate confidentiality - be aware of the risk of being overheard, especially by members of the public, check if password system in place.
  • Confirm who you are speaking to before releasing information. If you are unsure, ring the person yourself using the number on clinical records.
  • If talking to a relative, consider carefully who the caller is and their relationship to the patient before giving out information. Always ask to speak to the service user first, if another person answers the phone.
  • Leave the minimum amount of information on answerphone messages, and consider whether an answer phone message is necessary if the information you are giving is not urgent.
  • If the call is clinically relevant to patient record, it needs to be recorded in the record.

For information on videoconferencing see Telehealth.

Instant messaging

Text messages may be used to remind patients of appointments, but should not be used to communicate sensitive information. The minimum amount of personal data should be sent.

Instant messaging of any form, e.g. on Skype, WhatsApp, Snapchat, Facebook, is NOT secure for the transfer of any confidential information. The data is unencrypted and there is no audit trail.

Email

Email may be used for communicating with colleagues, other professionals and service users.

Emails containing personal confidential information should only be sent to and from secure accounts (as defined by Information Standard Board ((ISB) Standard 1596). This includes nhs.net but not nhs.uk.

Emails sent, from or to a secure account, from an insecure account need to be encrypted. The recipient will also need appropriate encryption software to read it. Parent mail and My School Portal are examples of secure platforms that can be used to communicate with parents.

Emails to service users’ personal accounts are not secure. Service users without adequately secure accounts should be offered access via a:

  • Safe space site
  • Special domain account address
  • Encryption/decryption mechanism

Service users must give consent to communication via email.

Social media and online forums

This section covers advice for all forms of social media, online forums and blogs.

Popular forums for this type of communication amongst Speech and Language Therapists include:

  • RCSLT basecamps
  • Facebook
  • Twitter
  • YouTube

These may be in use at personal or business level. Local policies should cover guidance for both.

Benefits:

Online communication has a wide range of benefits. It can be used:

  • To promote services
  • To share information
  • For clinical and professional development
  • For networking
  • For fundraising
  • For awareness raising

Current advice:

  • Social media sites do not guarantee confidentiality, no matter what privacy settings are in place - General Medical Council guidance.
  • Each organisation should have up-to-date policies for use of blogging and social networking sites, including when these can be accessed, e.g. acceptable use during working hours, and from which devices.
  • Additional policies should be available for staff who publish official content, e.g. on a Trust’s social media pages.
  • Ensure you gain informed written consent from service users, parents or guardians before posting any photos, videos or other material related personally to individuals online. Make them aware which social media or websites these will be posted on and the implications of the photo being accessible on the internet. Find out more about sharing information and consent to share.
  • Staff and service-users should also be educated about possible business risks and impacts associated with blogging and social networking. Advise on your social media homepages what information should and shouldn’t be posted, e.g. children’s names.
  • Think about the personal details you post online, and what you want to use your online profile for, applying appropriate security and preferences settings as necessary.
  • Consider putting a note with your profile if your online presence represents your personal views and not necessarily those of your employer.
  • Be aware of your personal responsibility for the words you post, and also for the comments of others you allow on your blog or webpage. Don’t say anything on-line that you would not say personally or wish others to hear. Avoid unattributable comments.

Risks:

  • Sensitive or confidential information could be released on the Internet, intentionally or otherwise, which cannot be tracked or removed.
  • Identity theft - people need to be aware of the personal information placed on the internet, including photographs, information about nationality, ethnic origin, religion, addresses, and date of birth, telephone contact numbers and interests.
  • Reputational damage to individuals or organisations. Ill-considered or unjustified comments may influence the opinion of the public and other professionals.
  • Legal liabilities from defamatory postings, un-evidenced or controversial opinions, breaches of confidentiality etc. by staff.
  • People often accept a website’s terms and conditions without reading them because they are difficult to understand.
  • Malicious code targeting social networking users causing virus infections and consequential damage to end user devices – which could include ‘phishing’ of confidential information.
  • Systems overload from heavy use of sites with implications of degraded services and non-productive activities – video and audio media take a lot of bandwidth to access.
  • Staff intimidation or harassment.

National Legislation and Guidance

This page covers legislation and guidance in place for communications technology. You may also refer to general technology guidance.

Please note: the resources on this page are provided for informational purposes only. No endorsement is expressed or implied, unless otherwise stated. While we make every effort to ensure this page is up to date and relevant, we cannot take responsibility for pages maintained by external providers.

BMA Social Media Guidance. Using social media: practical and ethical guidance for doctors and medical students.

General Medical Council. Doctors’ use of social media.

Information Governance Toolkit - Social interaction: good practice

NHS Choices and NHS England outline their comments policy on their websites.

Healthcare Improvement Scotland. How we use social media.

NHS Employers. HR and social media in the NHS.

NHS Employers. Social media toolkit for the NHS.

NHS England Social media and comment moderation policy

Social Media All Wales Policy

Technology Code of Practice (2017) from the government's digital service, contains information on privacy, sharing and integrating technology.

NHS Education for Scotland. Policy and good practice guidelines for the business and personal use of social media.

NHS Trusts should also have their own information governance policies regarding the use of communications technology such as telephone and e-mail correspondence. Many NHS trusts are also developing their own social media policies.

Resources

Please note: the resources on this page are provided for informational purposes only. No endorsement is expressed or implied, unless otherwise stated. While we make every effort to ensure this page is up to date and relevant, we cannot take responsibility for pages maintained by external providers.

RCSLT: How to guides

Download the video tutorials for using different technologies document.

HCPC

Contributors

Alys Mathers

Kathryn Cann

Supported by: Gillian Rudd

Peer reviewers: Julie Carr, Kathryn Cann, Nicola Crow, Carolyn Allen.