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  • Medical Photography with a Cellular Phone: Useful Techniques and What Neurosurgeons Need to Know About HIPAA

    Final Number:

    Rebecca Reynolds MD; Akshitkumar Mistry MD; Le He; Jason Thurman; Lawrence Stack

    Study Design:

    Subject Category:

    Meeting: Congress of Neurological Surgeons 2017 Annual Meeting

    Introduction: Medical photographs are commonly employed to enhance education, research, and patient care throughout the neurosurgical discipline. The rise of smartphone camera technology has enabled surgeons to quickly capture, document, and share a patient scenario with colleagues. Research has shown that patients generally view clinical photography favorably, and the practice has become integral to healthcare. Attending neurosurgeons in satellite locations often rely upon residents to send photos of imaging studies, neurological exam findings, or post-operative wounds. Conversely, images are also frequently taken by the supervising surgeons who pursue publication of unique cases, operative techniques, educational conference presentations, and telemedicine consults. Image quality is highly variable. Capturing and sharing photographs should be accompanied by an awareness of the legal ramifications of the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act (HIPAA).

    Methods: An overview of four easily implemented photography skills is illustrated in words and with images. Descriptions of the HIPAA-related components of cell phone photographs and patient protected health information (PHI) are also highlighted.

    Results: Four photography techniques every neurosurgeon who uses their mobile phone for patient care should know are described: providing context, appropriate lighting, dimensionality, and managing distracting elements [Image 1]. HIPAA identifiers include an arm band or diagnostic imaging containing a patient’s name, unique tattoo or birthmark, and full facial portraits.

    Conclusions: Simple modifications to a daily surgical practice can be made to improve image value and accuracy. HIPAA compliance is straightforward when empowered with the knowledge of what constitutes a patient identifier in a photograph.

    Patient Care: Medical photography continues to rise throughout the neurosurgical discipline – aiding in new consultations, intraoperative surgical decision making, and postoperative care. A general knowledge of HIPAA-appropriate photography practices can aid neurosurgeons in upholding patient privacy while providing expedient healthcare. Furthermore, high quality images and videos will be critical in efforts to improve the efficacy and safety of mobile technology in neurosurgical patient care.

    Learning Objectives: 1. To provide four easily-implemented techniques for higher photograph quality 2. To educate neurosurgeons regarding HIPAA-compatibility of cell phone imaging practices 3. To share the factors that constitute patient-protected health information with respect to photographs


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