Impact of the COVID-19 Pandemic on a Physician Group’s WhatsApp Chat: Qualitative Content Analysis

Sawsan Abdel-Razig, Pascale Anglade, Halah Ibrahim

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Background: Social media has emerged as an effective means of information sharing and community building among health professionals. The utility of these platforms is likely heightened during times of health system crises and global uncertainty. Studies have demonstrated that physicians’ social media platforms serve to bridge the gap of information between on-the-ground experiences of health care workers and emerging knowledge. Objective: The primary aim of this study was to characterize the use of a physician WhatsApp (WhatsApp LLC) group chat during the early months of the COVID-19 pandemic. Methods: Through the lens of the social network theory, we performed a qualitative content analysis of the posts of a women physician WhatsApp group located in the United Arab Emirates between February 1, 2020, and May 31, 2020, that is, during the initial surge of COVID-19 cases. Results: There were 6101 posts during the study period, which reflected a 2.6-fold increase in platform use when compared with platform use in the year prior. A total of 8 themes and 9 subthemes were described. The top 3 uses of the platform were requests for information (posts: 2818/6101, 46.2%), member support and promotion (posts: 988/6101, 16.2%), and information sharing (posts: 896/6101, 14.7%). A substantial proportion of posts were related to COVID-19 (2653/6101, 43.5%), with the most popular theme being requests for logistical (nonmedical) information. Among posts containing COVID-19–related medical information, it was notable that two-thirds (571/868, 65.8%) of these posts were from public mass media or unverified sources. Conclusions: Health crises can potentiate the use of social media platforms among physicians. This reflects physicians’ tendency to turn to these platforms for information sharing and community building purposes. However, important questions remain regarding the accuracy and credibility of the information shared. Our findings suggest that the training of physicians in social media practices and information dissemination may be needed.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Article numbere31791
JournalJMIR Formative Research
Issue number12
StatePublished - Dec 2021


  • COVID-19
  • Communication
  • Community
  • Content analysis
  • Information seeking
  • Information sharing
  • Information-seeking behavior
  • Misinformation
  • Pandemic
  • Physician
  • Qualitative
  • Social media
  • WhatsApp

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Medicine (miscellaneous)
  • Health Informatics


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