Using mobile devices to capture clinical images of patients’ conditions is a popular and effective diagnostic tool. However, concerns have been raised that the practise carries risks patients’ privacy and could cause legal issues for doctors.
“Store-and-forward” is a process where clinical images are taken on a mobile device and then forwarded to a specialist, who later responds with an opinion on diagnosis and management. This method is proving to be increasingly popular, particularly with dermatologists.
Mr Paul Stevenson, Research Assistant and colleagues from the University of Queensland and Princess Alexandra Hospital in Brisbane said “As dermatology is a visually oriented specialty, using digital images for diagnosis is a natural fit.”
“Numerous studies have already shown the diagnostic accuracy and reliability of store-and-forward teledermatology. More rapid diagnosis and initiation of treatment coupled with improved patient outcomes have also been demonstrated.”
The risks are significant, however, if appropriate precautions are not taken. “Practitioners should obtain consent for taking images, explain how they will be used, apply appropriate security in their digital communications, and delete images and other data on patients from personal devices after saving these to patient health records.”
In 2014, the Australian Medical Association in conjunction with the Medical Indemnity Industry Association of Australia released a guide for medical students and doctors for the use of clinical imaging and personal mobile devices.
Recommendations include ensuring the patient understands the reasons for taking the image, how it will be used, and with whom it will be shared.
Obtaining informed consent before taking a clinical image, documenting the consent process in the patient record, having controls on mobile devices to prevent unauthorised access and deleting clinical images from mobile devices after saving them to patients’ health records are also recommended.
“Fear of legal action should not preclude doctors from embracing novel approaches to health care that benefit patients and doctors,” Stevenson advises. “Rather, practitioners should take a few sensible precautions to reduce the likelihood of sensitive patient information falling into the hands of malicious third parties.”