Consent for Taking Medical Photography
Thanks to smartphones, the way we live every element of our lives has fundamentally changed. How we interact with each other and with professionals is now completely different. One element of this is mobile medical photography, which enables physicians to take photographs of cases of interest and to make recordings of their patients. This, however, has created a very new challenge, which is that of consent. Physicians have legal obligations to protect the anonymity of their patients, which can be very difficult if they are recorded and photographed. As a result, physicians are having to rethink consent forms and how this is managed.
If an image is taken of a patient, documented, signed consent forms have to be created. They exception is in pathology slides and internal investigations, as these do not reveal the identity of the individual. That said, even in those cases, patients should still sign consent forms. All departments in hospitals, clinics, and other medical facilities now should have the right forms available to them, therefore.
The United Kingdom agency GMC (General Medical Council) has developed the ‘Making and Using Visual and Audio Recordings of Patients’ in 2011, and this has quickly become a benchmark for medical facilities all over the world. In this plan, the various professional obligations tied to taking recordings and images of patients are set out. It places consent and confidentiality at the heart of the policy, and they have developed consent forms that can be adapted for any type of medical environment. Of key importance in this is that these forms should be used even in the theater environment.
Any images, whether they are anonymous or not, are part of the full medical record. As a result of this, it should be stored in accordance with data protection laws and regulations. As a result, it is not acceptable for physicians to keep images of their patients on their mobile devices, or to send them electronically. The risk of data being stolen or lost is simply too big, and only a registered data controller should be allowed to do this. If an image does become lost, then physicians must immediately notify the relevant people, and this will lead to some form of disciplinary action. At the same time, however, it is understood that physicians may have no alternative but to take or use photographs on mobile devices. As a result, medical facilities must also invest in how records are created, stored, and shared. The IT department should also have policies in place for archiving and deletion.
If a physician has a clinical requirement to take an image, be that for education or for diagnoses, then they should not use their personal mobile phone to do that. Even with consent, physicians are still bound by the rules of their employer and by their duty to maintain confidentiality. Hence, these photographs should only be taken on purpose-built devices, which are secure and linked to the clinic’s secured internal network at all times.