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Storing Photos in Google Services Provides no Privacy, Doctors BEWARE!

Updated on June 18, 2015

The current and past practice of many physicians has been to store patient photos.

With the enormous rise in the number of lawsuits that are filed each year against health care institutions as well as individual practitioners, it is no wonder that physicians and other health care organizations take photos of patients and disease conditions that patients present with each day. But now, with the increase of technology use, it has become very important to understand what it is that you are doing that might pose a huge liability to you and any organization that you are associated with in your business. My attempts to help you understand those potential risks is outlined in this story, hopefully this can be of some help to better understand that threat posed to you and your practice.

Photos are used for different reasons in health care. Education is one of the first that comes to mind.

To build a database or historical collection of present conditions that physicians come into contact with, it is understandable as to why photos are taken. Education is prime for advancement in healthcare technology and disease conditioning. For example, a rash described as an area with small pimple like collection in a region on the scalp of a baby sounds rather vague and mostly in-descriptive. But to add a simple photo of your patient to the description now transcends that photo into a whole new world of the enlightened. New physicians, new nurses, old alike, they all can benefit from the visual of this rash. Its been proven that photos are remembered much quicker than the text of what was read. So understandably, we should want to continue this evolution of health care for the betterment of lives to come.

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Providing protection in a legal suit is another reason why we do photos.

Let's say you are working the emergency room of the local hospital, and a patient is brought in by ambulance complaining of chest pain. Upon physical examination, it is noted that the patient has a large torn-like decubitus at the base of the spine. The patient resides in a nursing home, and you already know that the State of California requires you to report this to the local Department of Health Services. Your hospital policy is to take photos of the area that demonstrates the size, shape, and what stage the decubitus is in. Pictures are taken and you've ensured the pictures contain at least the medical record number, date of service and other indicators to include the date of pictures being taken. This would be a really good example of pictures being taken that promotes the organization in its efforts to "CIA" (cover its Ass).


Or imagine, you are a plastic surgeon. Maybe you are a plastic surgeon staff person in charge of taking pictures or at minimum in charge of filing them for safekeeping. Pictures could go to benefit you from unlawful suits that try to insinuate that a person did or did not have a certain look prior to the case being performed. We all know of patients that come into the plastic surgeons' offices looking like Whoopi Goldberg and hopefully wish they will be discharged, once recovered, looking like J' Lo. Though it is unrealistic by many imaginative facts, there are still patients that are that ignorant, and having the before and after pictures could be the difference in a law suit paying out or NOT. Another good example of the benefits to having pictures on file to review should the need arise.

Pictures taken of you when receiving healthcare services?

Have you ever been asked to sign a release allowing a healthcare worker to take photos of you?

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Where and how we store photos is important!

The printed photo, placed on a progress note inside the medical record is the most logical place to store photos, we assume. But, the problem with this medium is that with time and age, the photos begin to deteriorate and obviously loose integrity. But with online storage, you are rest assured that they will always be as fresh as the day they were taken, right?

Where to store the digital images is where the problem lies. Dropbox, one of my favorite repository type applications is amazing. They allow you to store anything in your created files, web based and with ease to share and maintain your files. When you store photos on dropbox, they even go so far as to add a disclaimer about their product and the photos you store to read, "When you use our Services, you provide us with things like your files, content, email messages, contacts and so on ("Your Stuff"). Your Stuff is yours. These Terms don't give us any rights to Your Stuff except for the limited rights that enable us to offer the Services."

The bold text reads that they (dropbox) does not have the right to your stuff. Your insurance policy that no one will access your photos and allow such a breach of this patient confidentiality as it would if it were let into the wrong hands.

What about Google Photos?

We all have tried Google Photos and love it, right? Isn't it cool to look for just about anything you can imagine and poof, there it is in front of you. But is your photos being protected against unethical use while being stored with Google? I don't think so. Matter of fact, Google even tells you ahead of time that they will be using your photos for whatever they see fit. Here are their exact words,

"When you upload, submit, store, send, or receive content to or through our Services, you give Google (and those we work with) a worldwide license to use, host, store, reproduce, modify, create derivative works (such as those resulting from translations, adaptations or other changes we make so that your content works better with our Services), communicate, publish, publicly perform, publicly display and distribute such content. The rights you grant in this license are for the limited purpose of operating, promoting, and improving our Services, and to develop new ones. This license continues even if you stop using our Services (for example, for a business listing you have added to Google Maps). Some Services may offer you ways to access and remove content that has been provided to that Service. Also, in some of our Services, there are terms or settings that narrow the scope of our use of the content submitted in those Services. Make sure you have the necessary rights to grant us this license for any content that you submit to our Services."

I don't know about you, but that paragraph from Google does not me feel very safe to have photos of my patients on their site, does it you?

In summation, read your fine print and know where you are storing your patient file photos.

In my summation, the story intentions is to get you and everyone you work with to be sensitive to the fine print of these storage outfits. Your choices are great, there are iCloud, Google, Dropbox, and many many more to choose from when wishing to store photos, files, or any other item to be preserved for various reason. Learn to read the fine print, know what it is you agreeing to before you drop files with these companies. There is a huge risk, you'll be better off knowing when and if there is an insurance policy against this privacy issue such as storing photos on Google Photos.

© 2015 The Compliance Doctor

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