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LETTER TO EDITOR
Year : 2018  |  Volume : 62  |  Issue : 4  |  Page : 319-320  

Ethical issues in sharing patients' information on social media


1 Assistant Professor, Department of Community Medicine, Apollo Institute of Medical Sciences and Research, Chittoor, Andhra Pradesh, India
2 Senior Resident, Department of Psychiatry, Post Graduate Institute of Medical Education and Research, Chandigarh, India

Date of Web Publication11-Dec-2018

Correspondence Address:
Dr. Sirshendu Chaudhuri
Department of Community Medicine, Apollo Institute of Medical Sciences and Research, Murakampattu, Chittoor - 517 127, Andhra Pradesh
India
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Source of Support: None, Conflict of Interest: None


DOI: 10.4103/ijph.IJPH_76_18

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How to cite this article:
Chaudhuri S, Basu A. Ethical issues in sharing patients' information on social media. Indian J Public Health 2018;62:319-20

How to cite this URL:
Chaudhuri S, Basu A. Ethical issues in sharing patients' information on social media. Indian J Public Health [serial online] 2018 [cited 2019 Mar 19];62:319-20. Available from: http://www.ijph.in/text.asp?2018/62/4/319/247234



Sir,

The use of social media is consistently increasing across the world, including in India.[1] Some of the popular ones include Facebook, Instagram, Pinterest, Twitter, and Google plus. Medical professionals use these media to share personal information and expertise in their own field, but when it comes to sharing information related to patients, it crosses ethical boundaries. Patient data including photographs are shared mainly for two reasons. First, when the primary doctor seeks medical advice or expert opinion from another physician. Second, when patient information is used purely for educational purpose but without any personal identifiers and after the face has been covered.[2] Any time a photograph is shared or disseminated without prior permission of the patient, it violates the rights of the patient whatever may be the intention of the treating physician. Confidentiality of a patient is of utmost importance; both the treating physician and the institution should play a sensible role to promote it. This includes medical student passing around rare clinical case details or a radiology snapshot with the intention to disseminate learning among them.

There are incidents in Europe and the Americas where medical students or practitioners have been punished by appropriate authorities for posting patient-related material on Facebook. In 2008, a Swedish nurse was suspended for posting brain surgery photograph on Facebook.[3] In 2011, four nursing students in the US were expelled from the college for posting a photograph on Facebook, posing with human placenta.[4] A Mexican anesthetist lost her job in 2012 for posting several photographs where the face of the patient was visible and had degrading comments.[5] In India, there is a habit of posting patients' photographs and information; an Indian doctor had to apologize to a patient with a cardiac tumor where the photograph of the organ had been uploaded on Facebook.[6]

While we teach medical and paramedical students about the ethical issues in day-to-day practice by incorporating medical ethics in the curriculum, we do not have a law in India that prevents and punishes such acts. Although the Indian Penal Code does not have a direct section to address so, the IT act, 2000 (Amended in 2008 and 2016) says – “Whoever, intentionally or knowingly captures, publishes or transmits the image of a private area of any person without his or her consent, under circumstances violating the privacy of that person, shall be punished with imprisonment which may extend to 3 years or with fine not exceeding two lakh rupees, or with both.” In a welcome respite, two recent acts, namely the Mental Health Care Act, 2015 and the HIV and AIDS (prevention and control act), 2017 have provision for confidentiality and data protection measures for the mentally ill and HIV, AIDS patients. However, a law targeting general population is yet to come. Until an act is passed, institutional policies are necessary to safeguard patient information and should be a part of the patient charter of every institution and practitioner. The Medical Council of India, in its Code of Ethics Regulation, states that “Confidences concerning individual or domestic life entrusted by patients to a physician and defects in the disposition or character of patients observed during medical attendance should never be revealed unless their revelation is required by the laws of the State.” The display of such a charter at every place of patient care, just as with the mandatory notice outside every ultrasound room, will serve to sensitize the medical fraternity periodically and reestablish the confidence of patients about their doctor. To conclude, the use of social media for disseminating health-care information including images raised many ethical questions that are needed to be addressed to protect the safety and privacy of public as well as health-care provider.

Financial support and sponsorship

Nil.

Conflicts of interest

There are no conflicts of interest.



 
   References Top

1.
Global Social Media Statistics Summary; 2016. Available from: http://www.smartinsights.com/social-media-marketing/social-media-strategy/new-global-social-media-research/. [Last accessed on 2016 Jul 05].  Back to cited text no. 1
    
2.
Palacios-González C. The ethics of clinical photography and social media. Med Health Care Philos 2015;18:63-70.  Back to cited text no. 2
    
3.
Salter BJ. Nurses Posts Brain Surgery Pictures on Facebook; 2008. Available from: http://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/uknews/2583411/Nurses-posts-brain-surgery-pictures-on-Facebook.html. [Last accessed on 2016 Jul 05].  Back to cited text no. 3
    
4.
Gibson M. Nursing Students Expelled For Posting Photo of a Placenta on Facebook. Time. Available from: http://www.newsfeed.time.com/2011/01/04/nursing-students-expelled-for-posting-photo-of-a-placenta-on-facebook/. [Last accessed on 2016 Jul 05].  Back to cited text no. 4
    
5.
Cessation of IMSS to anesthesiologist for mocking patients on Facebook; 2012. Available from: http://www.proceso.com.mx/304669/evalua-imss-ancion-a-anestesiologa-que-se-burlaba-de-pacientes. [Last accessed on 2016 Jul 05].  Back to cited text no. 5
    
6.
Why Sharing Clinical Photography on Social Media May not be Right. Available from: http://www. firstpost.com/india/ethics-surgeon-posts-pictures-patients-internal-organs-facebook-2179891.html. [Last accessed on 2016 Jul 03].  Back to cited text no. 6
    




 

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