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Picture perfect – avoiding clinical image privacy issues

20 September 2021 | Avant media

It's much easier to take a photo of something than describe it. So, if you need an opinion from a cardiologist on an ECG regarding a critical patient with chest pain, a picture paints a thousand words. The cardiologist can assess if the patient requires urgent intervention without having to come into hospital. It’s an obvious solution to any medic on improving efficiency and expediting patient care.

However, images are considered health information and doctors are bound by the requirements of privacy legislation and the legal and ethical duty of confidentiality.

Common practice raises risks

A solution many doctors turn to is WhatsApp. 95% of doctors use social media platforms at work with around 85% using WhatsApp. Although these tools provide some protection through encryption, doctors are unsure if these generic social media platforms are compliant for clinical images.

And clinical images are not just those of patients, they can include X-rays, pathology reports, diagnostic images and medication charts. Dr Oliver Charlton, a paediatrics trainee at St George Hospital, NSW, describes the common practice in hospitals of using WhatsApp and sending photos of patients on a daily basis for their care. “It increases efficiency, because I can take a photo of a patient and share that with my senior colleagues for an opinion – it saves them from having to see that patient directly.”

The wide use of these tools is a concern for some hospital managers, given their hospital’s own policies and procedures. Heidi Boss, Director of Medical Services at St George Hospital, Sydney, notes “I didn't want my clinicians using WhatsApp to talk about their patients or send clinical photographs or to provide any patient clinical information. It's not an approved way of doing that.”

Many hospitals are bringing in their own policies about what they consider acceptable regarding the use of apps in the workplace.

Doctor innovation delivers solution

Doctors are no strangers to finding novel solutions to problems in the workplace. If WhatsApp wasn’t the solution, Dr Vikram Balakrishnan had an idea of what was. Working with Krupa Bhagani and Kruti Balakrishnan who understood the problems from a patients perspective, they co-founded myBeepr, a tool specifically designed for the healthcare setting that lets you share messages, photos and other vital information securely with other medical professionals.

Since implementing myBeepr at St George Hospital, Heidi Boss states  that “myBeepr combined all of the best bits of what we were trying to do to bring communication together.” She added, “importantly, they can use it to communicate patient clinical information, share photographs, and allowed them to have immediate communication with the right person.”

myBeepr is a communication tool developed in partnership with Avant. Find out more at myBeepr.com

Clinical photography best practice

Security and compliance considerations are key considerations from a patient privacy perspective. Remember, if using a personal device, it is your responsibility to take reasonable steps to ensure the safety of the data, so:

  • Check if any policies are in place about clinical images in your specific hospital, facility or LHD or state health department.
  • Obtain and record the patient’s consent when taking a clinical image.
  • Take reasonable steps to store the image securely.
  • Add the image to the patient file if used for clinical care.
  • Delete the image if taken on a personal device.

Read more about best practice for taking clinical photos, including where, when and how to obtain consent, on the Avant website.

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