Patients perception of medical photography

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  • dDepartment of Plastic and ReconFoundation Trust, Cambridge, Un

    Received 5 August 2009; accepted

    KEYWORDSMedical photography;Consent;

    photographs was more acceptable for all purposes (p< 0.001). Electronic distribution was less

    Elsevier Ltd. All rights reserved.

    Medical illustration has been known around the world since drawings through dissection of human corpses. With thed


    * Presented at: The British Association of Plastic Reconstructive and Aesthetic Surgeons Winter Scientific Meeting, London, England on 7th

    December 2006 and The Conjoint Scientific Congress by the Royal College of Surgeons of Edinburgh and The college of Surgeons of Hong KongSurgery: East Meets West, Hong Kong, China 12th October 2006.

    * Corresponding author. Department of Plastic and Reconstructive Surgery, Box 186, Addenbrookes NHS Trust, Hills Road, Cambridge, UKCB2 2QQ. Tel.: 44 122 358 6672; fax: 44 122 325 7177.

    E-mail address: (C.K. Lau).

    1748-6815/$-seefrontmatter2009BritishAssociationofPlastic,ReconstructiveandAestheticSurgeons.PublishedbyElsevierLtd.All rightsreserved.doi:10.1016/j.bjps.2009.11.005

    Journal of Plastic, Reconstructive & Aesthetic Surgery (2010) 63, e507ee511ancient times. In the 15th century, artists such as LeonardoDaVinci and Andreas Vesalius produced many anatomical

    help from students of the studio of Titian, a renowneRenaissance artist, to record his dissections, Vesalifavoured (p< 0.001). Patients agreed to have their photographs used by treating doctors(98%), other doctors (74%), for student teaching (82%) or patient education (88%).Conclusion: Medical photography is acceptable to most patients. Appropriate consent andequipment would maximise patient compliance and clinical benefits. Our discussion withmedical professional and defence organisation provide a portrait of current perspectives. 2009 British Association of Plastic, Reconstructive and Aesthetic Surgeons. Published byPatients perception;Data protection;Confidentialityagen H.A. Schumacher, Michael S. Irwin

    structive Surgery, Addenbrookes Hospital, Cambridge University Hospitals NHSited Kingdom

    7 November 2009

    Summary Introduction: With the advent of digital medical photography, a balance betweentechnological possibility and ethical acceptability is necessary. An understanding of patientsperception is vital in maintaining a healthy doctor-patient relationship and the avoidance ofunnecessary medico-legal consequences. To explore this, an anonymous patient questionnairesurvey was conducted.Methods: Ethically approved questionnaires were distributed in our plastic surgery clinics. Thequestionnaires examine patients acceptability of the use of identifiable and non-identifiablephotography for different purposes including teaching, presentation, publication and internet.Patients preferences on equipment used and who should view their images were also re-corded. 205 completed questionnaires were analysed and statistically assessed.Results: There was a low level of acceptability to the use of personal cameras (16%) andphones (12%) compared to hospital equipment (75% p< 0.001). The use of non-identifiableCatherine K. Lau*, HPatients perception of me ical photography*

  • produced a remarkable volume known as the Fabrica which

    General Medical Council on the use of medical photography

    e508 C.K. Lau et 2002,6 variation of practice is observed amongstdifferent NHS (National Health Services) Trusts. It is obviousthat a written consent should be obtained for medico-legalpurposes prior to any medical procedures includingphotography. Nevertheless, some Trusts enforce a stricterlocal policy than others on the capturing and use of medicalphotography. We believe these variations are due todifferences in interpretation of the original GMC guidelinesand in some cases may actually limit the potential benefitsof these photographs unnecessarily. Taylor et al examinedthe use of digital photography amongst plastic surgeons7

    however to the authors best knowledge, no publishedstudies had yet explored patients perception on thismatter. It is the aim of our study to survey patients opinionand preference on the consent process, capturing equip-ment, distribution and accessibility of their medicalphotographs. The results may provide us with an indicationto the appropriate level of restrictions required to achievea balance between patients acceptance and maximisingpotential benefits from medical photography.

    Patients and methods

    An anonymous questionnaire was designed with questionsspecifically focused on each of the area of interest(consent process, capturing equipment, distribution andaccessibility) in order to determine patients preferencesin relation to medical photography. This was ethicallyapproved by the Clinical Governance Department atAddenbrookes Hospital. The first 55 questionnaires(Figure 1) were completed by patients in the presence ofthe first author to ensure terminology used was easilyunderstood. These were then distributed in the PlasticSurgery Out-patient consisting of both new and follow-uppatients. Collection was stopped when a total of 205completed questionnaires were received. Responses werecorrelated into a Microsoft Excel database and werestatistically assessed using the McNemars test for pairedalternatives.were named as the first comprehensive textbook of humananatomy.

    In the 1840s, photographic technology first becameavailable. This has made a revolutionary change to medicaldocumentation. The earliest surviving clinical photographwas taken by Hill and Adamson 1847 in Edinburgh.1

    With the advances in information technology and hencethe ease of information sharing, a balance between tech-nological possibility and ethical acceptability needs to bestruck. Medical photography forms a vital part of patientrecords in Plastic surgery. It is also routinely used in manyother surgical, medical and nursing specialities2; forexample, ENT (Ear, Nose and Throat), MaxillofacialSurgeries, dermatology3 and wound caring.4,5 The use ofmedical photography is a valuable adjunct to the process ofdiagnosis, monitoring of disease progression and treatmentoutcome. It is a form of medico-legal document and playsan integral part to both inter- and intra-disciplinarycommunications. Despite guidelines published by theResults

    Capturing equipment

    The most significant results were patients preferences oncapturing equipment. 12% of patients agreed to the use ofpersonal camera-phone compared to 16% that of personalcamera (p> 0.05), the vast majority of patients (75%)prefer the use of hospital cameras (Figure 2). This prefer-ence over personal camera and camera-phone is very highlysignificant (p< 0.001).

    Identifiable vs. Non-identifiable

    Patients showed definite preferences to the use of non-identifiable photographs for all purposes (p< 0.001)(Figure 3). This was indicated by the lower acceptance rateof identifiable photographs to be used for case notes (72%vs. 88%), teaching (67% vs. 88%), journals (55% vs. 85%),presentations (54% vs. 83%), web sites (40% vs. 73%) andprofessional emails (46% vs. 74%) when compared to non-identifiable ones.

    Mode of distribution

    The use of medical photography for case notes was mostacceptable to patients with high acceptance rates of 88%for non-identifiable and 72% for identifiable photographs.Using case notes as the standard, patients are as likely toaccept the traditional uses of medical photographs such asteaching, journals and presentations (p> 0.05). On theother hand, the used of medical photography on theinternet such as medical web sites and professional e-mailsis generally less acceptable to patients (p< 0.001).


    98% of patients were happy for doctors directly involved intheir care to have access to their medical photographs. Thisis significantly higher than any doctors (74%), medicalstudents (82%), other healthcare professions (79%) andother patients (77%) (p< 0.001). It should also be notedthat the higher level of acceptance to medical student toaccess medical photographs in comparison to any doctors isstatistically significant (p< 0.01).

    Consent process

    Patients preferences to particulates of the consent processwere less definite. 47% would like to have separate consentfor each mode of distribution. 41% of patient prefers to benotified on every occasion in which their images were usedwhereas 55% would like to be informed of the specificjournal or meeting in which the above occurred.


    The use of medical photography was found to be accept-able to most patients; however issues of data protectionand confidentiality clearly need to be addressed. Patients

  • aph


    Patients perception of medical photography e509Medical Photogr

    Addenbrookes is committed to providing thepreference to the use of hospital photographic equipmentis associated with the presumed assurance of proper useand storage of their images. On the other hand, their lackof acceptance to personal capturing equipments such ascameras and camera-phones indicated their anxiety to the

    therefore be grateful if you would fill in this quesphotography. This will help us to identify any arecare we provide.

    Your answers will be treated in the strictest oCompleted questionnaires will be destroyed once a

    Thank you for your time.

    It is our hospital policy to obtain consent for conducting this survey on patients opinion in this

    1. Would you agree to have medical photographs

    Identifiable Yes

    Case notes


    Medical journals

    Medical presentations

    Medical web sites

    Professional e-mails

    2. Do you think consent needs to be obtained for

    Yes No Dont mind Comme

    3. Which device would you be happy to be used f

    YePersonal camera-phone

    Personal camera

    Hospital camera

    4. Should you be informed about the use of your

    Yes No Dont mind Comme

    5. Would you like to be informed of the specific are used?

    Yes No Dont mind Commen

    6. Who should have access to your medical photog

    Doctors directly involved in your care

    Any doctors

    Medical students

    Other medical professions e.g. nurses & physiot

    7. Would you allow us to use your photographs for

    Please comment: ________________________


    Thank you for your help in comp

    By completing this survey/questionnairegive can be used for this clin

    Figure 1 The ethically approved qy Questionnaire est possible care to our patients, we would potential unethical use of their medical images. It isobvious that in an ideal world, all clinical images shouldpreferably be captured via the medical photographydepartment, unfortunately this is not always feasible inclinical practice. The availability of approval photographers

    tionnaire which relates to the use of medical as for improvement in order to enhance the

    f confidence and completely anonymised. final report has been written.

    any use of medical photography. We are matter.

    taken for the following purposes?

    i.e. face Non-identifiable No Yes No

    each of the above categories separately?

    nts ________________________________

    or taking medical photographs?

    s No Dont mind

    medical photographs on every occasion?

    nts ________________________________

    journal in which your medial photographs

    ts ________________________________

    raphs? Yes No


    illustration purposes to other patients?



    leting this questionnaire.

    I am agreeing that the information I ical audit project

    uestionnaire used in the study.

  • at short notices varies greatly amongst different NHSTrusts. This could potentially lead to delays during clinicalsessions with resource implications. Lack of access tohospital medical photography during out of hours is anotherissue that needs to be noted. As a solution, hospital owned

    Figure 2 Graphs showing patients acceptance on differentcapturing equipment.

    e510 C.K. Lau et al.Polaroid cameras are available in some Accident andEmergency Department to capture images without delays.This unfortunately possesses other problems such as thelack of proper storage and possible misplacement of irre-producible pictures. Individuals can register their owncameras within certain Trusts making these hospital-approved, however, this can be labour intensive withuncertain impact on patients acceptance.

    In the majority of clinical situations, non-identifiablephotographs can be taken without compromising imagequality. It is important tobeawareof thefact that identifiablephotographs do not solely apply to images involving patientsface, but also applies to images displaying any identifiablefeatures such as jewellery, tattoos, skin lesions and scars. It ishuman nature to try and preserve our own privacy, thereforenot surprisingly patients much prefer the use of non-identi-fiable photographs for all modes of distributions. This hasimplicationson thepotential benefits ofmedical photographyFigure 3 Graph demonstrating differences to patientacceptance between identifiable and non-identifiable imagesfor all patients are more likely to consent for their non-identifi-able images to be used for teaching, presentations, journals,medical websites and professional emails.

    With the advent of digital photography, medical illus-tration departments in many hospitals are converting todigital systems. Despite the higher initial set-up cost ofpurchasing digital equipment and software, these offera lower running cost as digital photographs can be viewedon screen at multiple locations without the need for phys-ical prints. Images are reproducible and demands minimalphysical storage space. In return for the above benefitshowever, digital images are prone to manipulation. Digitalediting programmes such as Adobe Photoshop are nowwidely available; this can raise questions to the authen-ticity of some published clinical images.

    Data obtained from medical photography is regulated bythe Data Protection Act 1998 which focuses more on thestorage of these data. According to this, any electronic ormanual forms of personal data must be obtained fairly andlawfully. Security measures against unauthorised accessmust be put in place and any additional used of personaldata must be consulted.8 Individual responsible forbreaching any of the data protection principles may beserved with an enforcement notice by the Commissioner torectify, block, erase or destroy any unlawful use of personaldata within a defined period. Failure to comply with theenforcement notice would constitute to an offence.A person guilty of an offence under any provision of this Actis liable on conviction to a fine not exceeding the statutorymaximum (5000 in 2009).8

    In 2002, the General Medical Council had published guid-anceongoodpractice titled Makingandusingvisual andaudiorecordings of patients.6 In this document, some importantrecommendations were made. Permission and consent shouldalways be obtained from patients for any use or disclosure.Adequate information for the purpose of the recording mustbe provided prior to consent. Patients privacy and dignityshould not be compromised under any circumstances. Addi-tionally, further consent is required for any use outside thescope of the original consent and patients have the right towithdraw their consent at any time. Finally, the securestorage of patients recordings was also emphasised.

    In our hospital, a specific policy was published in 2002detailing confidentiality, copyright and storage issues ofphotography and video recordings of patients.9 This iscurrently under revision and a new version is due to be pub-lished later this year. Through this policy, a standardisedConsent to Photography form was developed, this iscompleted prior to any photography or recordings within theTrust. It consists of three-part formset: the top copy is filed inpatients case notes. The second copy is given to the patientand the third copy is sent to Medical Photography. Thisconsent document provides the opportunity for the patientto consent to different level of usage of their images.10

    Furthermore, this policy had also raised awareness amongstclinicians to the copyright issue related to medical photog-raphy. It is important to be mindful that in any contract forpublication, the copyright in the recording should remainwith the Trust and does not pass automatically to thepublishers on first publication. This is because once copyrighthas been transferred, the Trust would lose the ability toprotect patients interests over further publication.

  • After exploring patients preferences, various medicaldefence organisations were consulted for advice on thesafe use of medical photography and strategies to preventany adverse medico-legal consequences. The MedicalDefence Union had issued a guide on education and media11

    which echoed guidelines set out by the General MedicalCouncil. In this document, the distributions of patientsdata via emails were mentioned. The use of anonymousdata along with secured email systems is recommended.This is in keeping with patients preference as demon-strated in our study. On the other hand, the MedicalProtection Society had not published an advice on this issuebut has suggested referring to the GMC guidelines aspreviously mention.

    In conclusion, although it is always more convenient andtime efficient to use our own cameras, the use of theseshould be discouraged. As patients acceptances of theseare low, usage of personal capturing equipment mayincrease the chance of medico-legal problems. Non-iden-tifiable photographs should be used whenever possible asthis would maximise their uses. In view of the fact thatpatients are generally less happy for their photographs tobe available on the internet, a separate consent is recom-mended for this purpose. Finally, the majority of patientswould allow their photographs to be shown to otherpatients, the incorporation of these into patient educationwould maximise its clinical benefits.

    Conflicts of interest statement




    1. McFall K. A notable anniversary in the history of medicalillustration. J Audiov Media Med 1997;20:5e10.

    2. Prasad S, Roy B. digital photography in medicine. J PostgradMed 2003;49:332e6.

    3. McLaughlin S, Tobin RJ, Leonard S, et al. The role of digitalphotography and electronic referral in the triage of patientswith suspected skin cancer. Br J Dermatol 2006;154:188e90.

    4. Roth AC, Reid JC, Puckett CL, et al. Digital images in thediagnosis of wound healing problems. Plast Reconstr Surg 1999;103:483e6.

    5. Hayes S, Dodds S. Digital photography in wound care. NursTimes 2003;99:48e9.

    6. General Medical Council. Making and using visual and audiorecordings of patients. London: GMC; 2002.

    7. McG Taylor D, Foster E, Dunkin CS, et al. A study of thepersonal use of digital photography within plastic surgery.J Plast Reconstr Aesthet Surg 2008;61:37e40.

    8. Office of Public Sector Information. Acts of the UK Parliament1998: Data Protection Act 1998,

    9. Addenbrookes NHS Trust. Photography and video recordings ofpatientseconfidentiality and c onsent, Copyright and Storage;Jul 2002.

    10. Johns MK. Informed consent for clinical photography. J AudiovMedia Med 2002;25:59e63.

    11. Medical Defence Union. Confidentiality e education andmedia; Jul 2007.

    Patients perception of medical photography e511None Declared.

    Patients perception of medical photographyPatients and methodsResultsCapturing equipmentIdentifiable vs. Non-identifiableMode of distributionAccessibilityConsent process

    DiscussionConflicts of interest statementFundingReferences


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