Clinical photography in dermatology: Ethical and medico-legal considerations in the age of digital and smartphone technology

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Abstract

Background/Objective:

Clinical photography has long been an important aspect in the management of dermatological pathology and has many applications in contemporary dermatology practice. With the continuous evolution of digital and smartphone technology, clinicians must maintain ethical and medico-legal standards. This article reviews how dermatology trainees are utilising this technology in their clinical practice and what procedures they follow when taking photos of patients. We review the ethical and legal considerations of clinical photography in dermatology and present a hypothetical medico-legal scenario.

Methods

Dermatology registrars were surveyed on their use of personal smartphones and digital equipment for photographing patients in their clinical practice. Numerous medico-legal providers were approached to provide medico-legal advice about a hypothetical scenario.

Conclusions

We found that the use of these technologies is prevalent among dermatology registrars and all respondents reported regular use. Clinicians should routinely obtain and document adequate patient consent in relation to clinical photography, utilise strict privacy settings on smartphones and other digital devices and ensure that the images are stored on these devices for minimal periods. Express consent documentation in the clinical file puts the clinician in a more defensible position if a complaint is made to the medical board or privacy commissioner.

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