Clinical mobile images guide released
Whipping out the mobile and taking a quick photo of a suspicious rash, an open wound or just about any other medical ailment, and texting it to a colleague has become almost a routine aspect of medical practice.
The advent of smart phones, tablets and other mobile devices with the ability to take and share images has been a boon for clinicians, giving them a handy record of a patient’s medical complaint or providing a means to quickly and easily seek the opinions of others.
But the convenience of capturing, storing and distributing the images of patients brings with it a host of significant legal, professional and ethical issues that have so far received little attention, but which it is vital that clinicians are aware of and take into account.
To fill this gap in knowledge, and to provide practitioners with a practical guide to how to avoid legal and ethical pitfalls, the AMA and the Medical Indemnity Insurance Association of Australia has, with specialised input form the AMA Council of Doctors in Training and the AMA Council of Salaried Doctors, developed a booklet, Clinical Images and the Use of Personal Mobile Devices.
AMA President Associate Professor Brian Owler said the booklet detailed the key ethical and legal issues doctors needed to be aware of before using a personal mobile device to take or transmit clinical images for the purpose of providing clinical care in the Australian health care system.
“Medical professionals routinely take clinical images while caring for patients,” A/Professor Owler said. “Sharing clinical images is extremely valuable for teaching, research, and advice – but there are also associated legal, professional, and ethical responsibilities.”
He said that that, with an ever-increasing range of portable devices available to the medical profession, “it is important that doctors and medical students are aware of the benefits and risks associated with the use of this new technology in clinical settings”.
The AMA President said that clinicians needed to be aware that such images formed part of a patient’s medical record, and so were subject to the same privacy and confidentiality principles as any other part of the record.
The guide includes detailed information about what constitutes a clinical image, how it can be collected, used and stored, and how doctors can fulfil their ethical and legal obligations to their patients.
“Under Australian privacy laws, clinical images should only be taken where necessary, and with consent, where practicable,” A/Professor Owler said. “The images must be stored securely, and only disclosed where needed in line with the consent given, or if there is a legal obligation to do so.”
The guide includes a handy flow chart that allows clinicians to quickly and easily navigate the legal and ethical considerations involved in taking, storing and sharing clinical images.
But A/Professor Owler said this was not just an issue for the medical profession, and urged governments to develop better systems to integrate clinical images into the medical records of patients.
He said the AMA had written to State and Territory Health Departments to encourage them to provide a secure platform to enable doctors to use this technology safely, efficiently, and effectively.
Some of the practical tips included in the guide include:
· before taking a clinical image, consider the purpose for which it is required, and obtain appropriate consent;
· make sure the patient understands the reasons for taking the image, how it will be used and to whom it will be shown; and
· document the consent process in the health record and check health service or hospital requirements regarding obtaining written consent.