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Doctors send patient scans via social media; some condemned for “unethically” broadcasting surgeries

Reshmin Kaur Cheema, 10 Jul 2017
A new report has surfaced revealing NHS doctors are using the Snapchat application to send patient scans over to one another. The report also dubs this as an “insecure, risky” way of working. However, this is not the first time – or the last – that doctors use social media to send and post patient’s medical details.

The rising trend of using various social media platforms like Snapchat or Instagram to broadcast patient surgeries have garnered public interest over the years. Nonetheless, doctors are now breaking their silence on this matter – deeming it “unethical” and are moving to ban these videos.

Report documents use of ‘Snapchat’ among NHS doctors to send scans

The report was ordered to scrutinise the dealings that DeepMind Health – owned by Google’s parent company, Alphabet – has with the NHS. In 2016, DeepMind recruited a panel of independent experts to evaluate its work with the NHS. DeepMind was found to have a “high level of data security” but the same could not be said about the NHS.

The panel wrote, “The digital revolution has largely bypassed the NHS; which, in 2017, still retains the dubious title of being the world's largest purchaser of fax machines.” They said that many records are insecure paper-based systems that are difficult to use.

The report stated, “Seeing the difference that technology makes in their own lives, clinicians are already manufacturing their own technical fixes. They may use SnapChat to send scans from one clinician to another or camera apps to record particular details of patient information in a convenient format.”

The independent review panel explained that it is difficult to criticise the individuals responsible because it enables them to do their job. “However, this is clearly an insecure, risky, and non-auditable way of operating, and cannot continue,” they asserted.

Private hospital in Australia bans Snapchat live videos during surgery

Doctors in Australia are calling for a nationwide ban on videos of live surgery, which appears to be gaining popularity. A major private hospital, Westmead Private Hospital, has confirmed its Medical Advisory Committee banned ‘snapchatting’ of live surgery in May 2017. Even Facebook has taken down at least one live surgery video on that basis of it being too graphic.

Plastic surgeon Dr Laith Barnouti expressed that the ban should be nationwide because the filming of surgery could carry a risk of infection; besides distracting doctors and nurses from patient care. He said, “This is not only unethical, but also interfering with the progress of the surgery.”

Dr Barnouti elaborated, “Doctors are using it as an advertisement saying this is happening live. Even though the patient has consented to live surgery broadcast, they have no control over what is shown. If you are doing a tummy-tuck you could put genitalia up or breasts could be published.”

Professor Mark Ashton, President of the Australian Society of Plastic Surgeons (ASPS), expressed his worry that social media is often used as a marketing device these days when it used to serve as an educational tool. He added, “I have spoken with those members whose Snapchat activity has come to my attention and have counselled them to modify their behaviour to ensure it is consistent with ASPS strong ethical code of conduct, and does not breach the Medical Board guidelines.”

As current regulatory guidelines have left Snapchat out, Professor Ashton intends to request that authorities update the guidelines. The Australian Health Practitioner Regulation Authority (AHPRA) emphasises its strict policies on privacy and using social media for advertising. A spokeswoman for AHPRA remarked, “If practitioners don’t meet these standards, we want to know about it.” She also said that they could not confirm details of the recent controversy to protect the integrity of their possible future action.

Popular surgeons use social media to educate and advertise

Numerous surgeons have built quite a reputation for themselves by using social media to publicise their surgical works. These clinicians claim that patients and their families are keen on looking back at these videos to observe the surgical process and what was done.

They also do so to educate the general public and any medical students interested in taking up this field. Plastic surgeons – such as Dr Michael Salzhauer, nicknamed “Dr Miami” and Dr Cat Begovic in California – highly publicise their surgeries and show-off the final outcomes on their social media pages. Popular dermatologist, Dr Sandra Lee, or better known as “Dr Pimple Popper”, also frequently takes to social media to graphically post her daily patient encounters. MIMS

Read more:
5 doctors with a significant social media presence
The delicate practice of social media for doctors
Canadian nurse penalised for posting concerns on social media