Clinicians and their cameras: policy, ethics and practice in an Australian tertiary hospital

Kara Burns, Suzanne Belton

    Research output: Contribution to journalArticle

    Abstract

    Medical photography illustrates what people would prefer to keep private, is practiced when people are vulnerable, and has the power to freeze a moment in time. Given it is a sensitive area of health, lawful and ethical practice is paramount. This paper recognises and seeks to clarify the possibility of widespread clinician-taken medical photography in a tertiary hospital in northern Australia, examining the legal and ethical implications of this practice. A framework of Northern Territory law, state Department of Health policy and human rights theory were used to argue the thesis. Clinicians from 13 purposively chosen wards were asked to participate in an anonymous survey and confidential in-depth interviews. Questions were generated from the literature and local knowledge on the topics of 'occurrence', 'image use', 'quality of consent', 'cameras and technology', 'confidentiality', 'data storage and security', 'hospital policy and law' and 'cultural issues'. One hundred and seventy surveys and eight interviews were analysed using descriptive statistics and theme and content analysis, then triangulated for similarity, difference and unique responses. Forty-eight percent of clinicians surveyed take medical photographs, with the majority using hospital-owned cameras. However, one-fifth of clinicians reported photographing with personal mobile phones. Non-compliance with written consent requirements articulated in policy was endemic, with most clinicians surveyed obtaining only verbal consent. Labelling, storage, copyright and cultural issues were generally misunderstood, with a significant number of clinicians risking the security of patient information by storing images on personal devices. If this tertiary hospital does not develop a clinical photography action plan to address staff lack of knowledge, and non-compliance with policy and mobile phone use, patients' data is at risk of being distributed into the public domain where unauthorised publication may cause psychological harm and have legal ramifications for the hospital, its patients, and staff.
    Original languageEnglish
    Pages (from-to)437-441
    Number of pages5
    JournalAustralian Health Review
    Volume37
    Issue number4
    DOIs
    Publication statusPublished - 2013

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