I’m interested to know what you think about medical photography – specifically, taking pictures of interesting anomalies or cool surgeries.
I know that a lot of doctors have personal collections of photos that they keep to… reflect on, I suppose? Use for presentations? Smart phones have made it easier and opened a new can of worms simultaneously. Decades ago, if a doctor took a picture of your tumour, you did not really worry that it would end up on Facebook, because there was no Facebook!
I have been wondering about this for quite a while. Last year during my Internal Rotation, I saw Janeway lesions for the first – and possibly last – time. I did not ask to take a picture, but I wish I had. Unless I specialise in Internal Medicine and practise till I’m eighty, I may never see something like that again (yay, antibiotics!).
Figure 1 made its debut on the iStore recently. For those of you who don’t know, it is basically instagram for doctors (coming to Android soon). Uploaders have to ensure that all identifying characteristics are removed from the photos, and it is quite a useful learning tool (certainly not without flaws, but fun).
This week in surgery, I was asked to play photographer in an interesting case – the patient’s mother had requested that a photo be taken, and afterwards she gave the doctors permission to keep the photo for personal use.
And then I examined a child with vestigial digits on each hand – not that rare, but it was the first time I saw it, and I wanted a picture. Just for myself, not for my blog or anything. I was afraid to ask the mother, because I did not want her to think that I was gawking, as I am sure others have done. And afterwards I resented myself for not asking.
So my question is first: why do we take pictures of patients? Simply for personal reasons? Or do you think it goes deeper?
And then: is it okay? I know different institutions and boards have different rules. As far as I know, most South African hospitals have a lot of red tape if one needs to take a photo: first permission must be obtained from the patient or caregiver, and second from the hospital superintendent. Most people skip the latter because getting permission for anything in our bureaucracy takes eons. Is patient consent alone okay? I am leaning towards a yes.
I think that medical photography can be quite important for progress in the field, but that does not mean that we aren’t treading an ethical minefield. I think that I would want to know if a photo of mine were to be used for a presentation, even if a doctor was not being compensated for it. And, for the record, I don’t think that ANY patient photos should ever make their way to Facebook…
So here are two questions, and I would love to hear your answers. Non-medical readers are welcome to answer too, I am quite interested in your opinions. And please feel free to elaborate upon your opinion.