Ask ECRI: Obtaining Patient Consent for Clinical Photography

April 10, 2019 | Ambulatory Care Risk Management


​A member recently asked for guidance and resources about obtaining patient consent for clinical photography via mobile applications that provide access to the electronic health record (EHR), as well as other risk management considerations related to this practice. In our response, ECRI Institute notes the importance of obtaining consent for photography, explains the risks involved with clinical photography, and provides resources related to developing clinical photography policies, documentation, and related adverse event reporting. (The term "photography" should be understood to include digital images, and refers not only to images but also to recordings in various formats, such as film, video, and audio recordings.)

One matter to consider is where to include language for consenting to clinical photography. East Carolina University's policy on medical photography indicates that medical photography performed for the purposes of treatment is covered under the general consent to treatment and that after the patient has signed the institution's form, consent to specific photos need not be sought. The University of Florida Health's policy on photography and audio recording has similar provisions. Both use Haiku or Canto EHR mobile applications. San Juan Regional Medical Center (New Mexico) uses a consent form that covers both medical treatment and photography for the purposes of documenting care.

Healthcare providers sometimes have legitimate reasons to take pictures of patients for purposes other than treatment. Consent forms, policies, and staff education should clearly distinguish between photos taken for treatment purposes and those taken for other purposes, such as education, research, marketing, or publication. Many consent forms allow the patient to consent or decline consent to specific uses of photography beyond treatment, such as education and marketing. By contrast, Carolinas HealthCare System has a consent to photography, for example, that broadly encompasses photography or illustration "for diagnostic and treatment purposes in the patient's case, for teaching and lectures in medical training programs, for publication in professional journals or medical books, and for any other medical education or research purpose." The University of Texas Medical Branch (UTMB) takes yet another approach. It uses separate forms for consent for photography for treatment, payment, or healthcare operations and authorization for photography for other purposes. UTMB's policy on photography of patients provides more information. The University of California, San Francisco, offers a [tip sheet for providers and...

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