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Image sharing leaves doctors at risk of breaking ethical guidelines, warns MDU

Doctors have been warned that they could be breaching their ethical obligations by sharing clinical information over file sharing apps and websites.

Last week, a review by DeepMind Health, a wing of Google, found that some doctors were being forced to use mobile camera apps like Snapchat to send data across to colleagues they were working with.

However, today a group of medical legal experts, the Medical Defence Union (MDU), has warned that doctors who use this technology to handle and send data could be at risk of breaking ethics guidelines.

“It’s understandable that doctors are using the same technology they find useful in their personal lives to communicate with colleagues professionally,” said Dr Beverley Ward, MDU medico-legal advisor.

“However, they may not be aware that in sharing patient information this way, they run the risk of data getting into the wrong hands.”

Doctors using their own mobile phone to share personal information opens up the potential for the data to be lost or stolen, or for the information to be accidently sent to the wrong recipient.

“Doctors have an ethical duty, set out in GMC guidance and a legal duty under the Data Protection Act to make sure personal information is protected from improper access, disclosure or loss at all times,” Dr Hurley stated. “In addition, doctors could be in breach of their contract, risking disciplinary action by their employer.

“For these reasons, a personal computer, tablet or mobile device shouldn’t be used to capture and store patient data, even if the data is later transferred to the patient record system and deleted from the device.”

The MDU also outlined a series of advice to ensure that doctors avoided getting into legal difficulty over using technology to do their job.

Firstly, it said that images should only be taken on a dedicated clinical camera that is kept secure at all time. An image of the patient should then be quickly downloaded onto the record system before being deleted from the camera.

MDU added that doctors should seek the patients’ consent before they share it with a colleague for a second opinion. The group also said that doctors should ensure that the picture is transmitted and stored on an official and secure IT system.

Finally, the MDU stated that if possible, doctors should ensure that the patient cannot be identified in the image by removing indicators like names and locations, or whether the photo includes an indicator that would give away the person’s identity.

Top Image: NurPhoto, SIPA USA, PA Images

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