Patient Privacy Rights Extend Beyond U.S. Borders, Ethicists Say

John Commins, for HealthLeaders Media , February 22, 2011

Physicians and other medical professionals from the United States who volunteer for Operation Smile must sign a code of conduct that forbids posting pictures of patients. Ayala says that on the rare occasion when they learn that a picture has been posted inappropriate, Operation Smile contacts the healthcare provider and asks them to remove the post. "Most times the reaction will be 'Oh I'm sorry. I didn't realize,'" he says. "I don't know where the disconnect comes from because these are practitioners who would never do this in the United States." 

In many cases, medical students and doctors may not realize the differing patient privacy laws in other countries or that that these laws could be even stricter than those in the U.S. 

"A lot of people consider this an ethical gray area," said Reed Van Deusen, MD, an assistant professor of internal medicine and pediatrics at the University of Pittsburgh, who was not involved with the study. "It is pretty complicated, but I agree with their basic tenet that trainees, and physicians in general, should not be posting pictures of patients, whether they are in this country or not. I think it is going to take a bit of a culture change to get everyone else on the same page." 

Terry Kind, MD, a director of pediatric medical student education at the Children's National Medical Center at George Washington University, in Washington, DC, said medical school faculty must teach students about issues like these, namely by modeling professional behavior themselves. 

"(Social media) is here and not going away," Kind said. "There are opportunities for use, but there is risk. The nature of the widespread dissemination is people forget to have that internal check on professionalism."

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2 comments on "Patient Privacy Rights Extend Beyond U.S. Borders, Ethicists Say"

Wanda (2/23/2011 at 2:57 PM)
Privacy rights article is certainly food for thought. I travel at least once per year doing medical clinics in 3rd world countries with church or christian mission work related. I have never posted these on face book but always take pictures and share in other formats promoting volunteerism to other professionals. Most clients coming for care are very eager to have their photo taken, in fact. I personally do not have an ethical problem related to photos being shared. It is for a greater good. Standards of care: When you are working in a romote area in the feild in a foreign country you do the best and most good you can do with the supplies and equipment you have with you. There is no way you can practice medicine in the feild to the same standard of care you do in a clean sterile office or hospital. You do use universal precautions and not jeperdize r the patient's or your own safety in the feild and good common nursing or medical judgement. To qoute an unknown scource, "It is what it is." Some care is better than no care. Thank God for volunteers. They pay their own way, they take their own purchased or donated supplies and they do more good in a weeks worth of free care clincs than they probably do in 6 months in their regular jobs. And the people they serve are greatful and appreciate the care they are given.

MCF (2/22/2011 at 10:33 AM)
Privacy is a relative thing. I have traveled extensively and trying to explain a picture or the internet in some areas is not even comprehendible. In addition, some cultures privacy is not even understood. Life is transparent, nudity is common, and ownership does not exist. We need to stop trying to force our "ethical codes" - which are flawed, into the world and get over ourselves as the "enlightened".




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