By Angeline Kado
The sprout of technological innovations in healthcare has helped save numerous lives while improving the quality of life for many others. It is undeniable that technology in the areas of health care has not only touched but changed the experiences for many patients as well as their families. In addition, technology has had immense impact on numerous medical practices and processes.
Clinical photography is one such innovation and involves the recording of clinical conditions presented by patients, medical and surgical procedures, as well as medical devices and specimens from autopsy.
This type of specialized photography is critical in the diagnosis of conditions or recording of the same during the various phases of treatment. Similar to other areas in the medical field, the practice requires a high level of technical expertise to present the photograph free from ambiguous information that could result in misinterpretation.
In addition to enriching and bringing to life the mundane words of texts, the photographs are used in clinical documentation, teaching, research and publication in scientific journals.
While the practise is crucial to medical record keeping and medical education, medical practitioners have a responsibility.
A majority of patients regard their health information sensitive and personal. While patients are expected to trust their doctors and other health care practitioners with wellbeing, patients should have the confidence to know that their medical records are safe with the clinicians.
This therefore means that medical practitioners should also be able to respect the privacy and dignity of their patients. Therefore, such information having been obtained during clinical examination should lie within the parameters of the doctor/patient relationship unless the patient agrees otherwise.
Hence brings forth the question, what is expected of medical practitioners who practice clinical photography?
Ideal Practice of Clinical (Medical) Photography
While in most cases a patient would be willing to have their pictures used in medical conferences or published in scientific journals, the same patients would be quite apprehensive about their pictures appearing in public posters, magazines or newspapers.
Consent from the Patient
According to a journal published in the Indian Journal of Plastic Surgery by Surajit Bhattacharya, archives of photographs obtained by medics should be maintained under two broad categories. In one, photographs to which consent of public display has been obtained and in the other, those which the patients have not consented.
Before a photograph is taken, a fully informed consent should always be sought from the patient. The photography endeavour should only proceed if this is granted. It is also important to note that the patient can choose to withdraw from this consent if he or she chooses to do so.
Rights and Dignity of the Patient
When carrying out the photo session, it is important for the medical practitioner to observe respect for the rights and dignity of the patient.
Once done, these images should be stored in a safe environment which should also have regulated access.
While complete anonymity might be hard to achieve, the parts of the body that are photographed should be kept at the minimum.
Contrary to what some medics would resort to, which includes blocking the eyes of their subjects with dark boxes or shades over their eyes, the eyes should only be included when absolutely necessary.
Also, medics should avoid including in the frame birthmarks, tattoos, hospital name tags as these might be recognizable.
While there may be many grey zones in this emerging technology in the field of health care, it is up to the medical practitioner to use images acquired with utmost responsibility.