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What is a clinical image?

For the purposes of this guide, a clinical image may be a photo, video recording, or audio recording. A clinical image may be of the patient’s body - such as an injury, skin lesion or body fluid - or an image of a pathology report, diagnostic image, or medication.

Benefits of clinical images

There are many benefits to taking clinical images. For example, they can capture the state of a lesion and track changes over time.

The availability of personal mobile devices, and the widespread use of digital and social media, means that a clinical image can be taken immediately and sent to a colleague in another location for advice on diagnosis, treatment, and management.

Sharing images in this way can improve clinical practice and inter-clinician communication, and improve patient access to timely clinical care, particularly where access to specialist care and advice is limited or absent. Clinical images can also be a beneficial adjunct to teaching and training.

Hospital policies and contracts

Case Study Two
Mr Lim was admitted to the ED with a large laceration to his thigh. An intern obtained Mr Lim’s consent to take photographs of the laceration for the purpose of  ending them to the surgeon for review and advice regarding management. The intern forwarded the images to the surgeon and to medical records, as requested. Three months later, a member of staff witnessed the images being shown by the intern on their phone to other doctors on the ward. A complaint was made to the Director of Medical Services regarding the images being present on the intern’s phone. It was found that the intern had breached the hospital’s clinical image policy.

While many hospitals and health departments around Australia have implemented clinical image policies, there is evidence that not all doctors are aware of or follow these policies.

It is important to ensure that all doctors working in public hospitals understand and follow the organisation’s policies and contracts with respect to clinical images and the use of personal mobile devices.

Some organisations may prohibit the use of personal mobile devices to capture clinical images, in their employment contracts and/or policies.

Where a hospital does have a policy on clinical images and the use of personal mobile devices, doctors should follow this in the first instance and use this guide as further information.

Where a hospital does not have a policy on clinical images and the use of personal mobile devices, this guide will provide useful information on steps to consider when taking an image using a personal mobile device.